Testify

 

A Night to Remember

I see you smiling in your gold frame, baby, but I always turn away my eye.
I see the chief out with his gold star shining, but he knows I’ll never testify.
I won’t testify.

People ask me all the time now how are you doing when they know I’m never gonna say.
They all heard me screaming on that black night, baby, but they only turned and walked away.
I won’t testify.

You can’t go waiting too long little baby or you know the fingerprints will rust.
You can’t go waiting too long little baby or the bones are gonna turn to dust
I won’t testify.

I walk outside of your apartment building, baby, and the gall starts to fill my throat.
I pray that God will burn it down to the ground, but as for me I’ll never rock the boat.
I won’t testify.

I keep my eyes down on the sidewalk, baby, because everybody makes me cry.
Every sweet smile is just another fucking person who will stand there as they watch me die.
I won’t testify.

I see their little fingers lifting up the blinds and their eyes peering eagerly.
I know they’ll stand there, they’ll never lift a hand when they see the man come for me.
I won’t testify.

Anybody who stands up to the man is gonna be the one to take the blame.
I lay your gun out on my living room mantle right next to your picture frame.
I won’t testify.

I walk at night out with a big stick, baby, but I know it won’t keep bad away.
You always said that when the man’s out to get you he can always find another way.
I won’t testify.

I asked the officer now how can I help you, when you know I can’t recall a thing.
I only saw a hand swing out of the darkness and the flash of a diamond ring.
I won’t testify.

I got some secrets that I wouldn’t mind sharing, but there ain’t nobody I can trust.
They talk so sweet with all their big eyes smiling, but it’s evil covered up in crust.
I won’t testify.

I try to tell myself to myself to go to California and to rearrange my style of hair.
It used to seem like such a big world, baby, till I found out that nobody cares.
I won’t testify.

I cry at night over them white bones, baby, but I always let them to turn to dust.
I lay your gun out on my bedside table, then I only sit and watch it rust.
I won’t testify.

 

Download Mp3: Testify

The N-word and Free Music

Hopefully, I won’t write anything with political overtones from now on. That is the problem with politically charged subjects- the overtones. You can’t say one thing you do mean without people hearing a dozen things you don’t. Don’t believe in global warming? Well, you must hate women. Think George Bush’s paintings are cute? You probably think gay people are going to hell. James was recently called a “disgusting racist” because he doesn’t like the extremely white senator Elizabeth Warren. Politics is like a distortion pedal; simple ideas get turned into horrendous cacophonies of meanings.

For example, one opinion I hold but would never share, based on what people might deduce, is my feelings about the dreaded “n” word. It makes me shiver to think of people being fined $20,000 (even black people!) for saying one of the most popular words in pop music. How does treating a word like a monster help the human race? I have heard people say that this one word must remain taboo until the end of time, that it’s horrible connotations can never be erased. But I don’t think that is nature of words. It is their nature to forget, to shed the nastiest of associations with ease. Words are like clouds, shifting and changing, they never stay the same. See the cloud that looks like Hitler? Give it a moment and it will turn into your mother. Likewise, let a word blow around and its meanings will transform.

But I understand when people don’t want the tragedies of the past to be forgotten. I’m not a “let bygones be bygones” sort of person myself. I just don’t think that words should be turned into memorials- that is what stones are for. They record the past and honor it, long after humans have tired of remembering. I would suggest building as many statues and monuments as it takes to honor the suffering caused by racism and make people feel balanced again. But words are for change and fresh beginnings. They should always fly free.

That is why I also believe in free music, free books, free on-line education. I think it would be magical for every last piece of content on the internet to be completely free of charge. The greatest library ever created! Of course, I’m now using a different meaning of the word free, but really, is a heavy price tag all that different from a heavy chain? Is the expense of education really that different from a fence that keeps the “lower” classes out? Does it actually behoove the human race to put a price on goods which can be infinitely multiplied at no cost to the creator?

People are always worrying about the impact free content has on writers and musicians, but before thinking of them, I’d rather think about all the people in the world who have barely enough money to fulfill their material needs. Why should they have to choose between new music and a new sweater when they could just as easily have both? Free content could enrich the world both immaterially and materially. Which would be a great thing, because, financially, life is strained enough. We have to pay just to have place on this earth where it’s legal to stand. Money for taxes or you’ll go to jail. Money for food, money for water. How refreshing that we can still drink our fill of air for free! How nice would it be if music and literature were just like air, there for the taking, no strings attached? I’ve always thought that the emotional health of a society is closely linked to how much free stuff it has to offer. Not the intimidating “free” services of governments and charities, but truly free things, which are shared just for the joy of sharing.

But what about the musicians and writers themselves? Don’t they deserve to be paid for their efforts? I guess so. Still, I wonder… what would happen if every musician knew, up front, that they would never see a penny from their efforts? Would this be bad ? Or good? I don’t know, but it wouldn’t be the death of music. People don’t expect to make money from sex, and yet they keep going. Even sex addicts manage to find other ways of supporting themselves.

Sometimes I wonder how compatible art is with capitalism in the first place. Capitalist art is profitable, popular, pleasing. Whatever good or bad appetites exist in society, capitalist art will be there to satisfy them. Whatever values and ideals we share, capitalist art will be there to capitalize on them. I suppose American Idol-type shows are a good example of capitalist art with a little democracy throw in.  Surely a vote is a good way to determine what has value. It worked for Jesus, right?

I think of art as energy, which- like Jesus- comes to us from a different world.  A subtle, ethereal impulse that will one day sink down into the heavier aspects of our culture to change the way we think and dress, the food we eat, the wars we wage. But in the beginning, it’s just a little picture, a story, a song. In essence, art is a new way of looking at things. New perceptions which gradually lead to new possibilities. Before the airplane comes the fanciful dream of flying.

But is it reasonable to expect something so strange and delicate to fend for itself on the streets, to fistfight its way to victory on the free market? Should art have to win the approval of the crowd or else, like Jesus, be crowned in shame? Should art even have to bear the burden of supporting it’s creator?

Many of our culture’s great artists did not support themselves, financially, with their work. Emily Dickinson was supported by her parents, Van Gogh by his brother. Thoreau worked at a pencil factory, and Henri Rousseau at a toll booth. William Carlos Williams was a doctor. Artists can always make money in other ways, or else be supported by others. Why not reinvigorate the ancient ideal of patron, for example?

Still, if artists DO want to make a living from art there are zillions of ways to do it without charging the listener. I once read a book about people making a very expensive expedition across Antarctica who paid for it by removing little chunks of their butt meat along the way and selling them to scientists who were studying the effects of extreme cold on muscle mass. Painful, but still, a win-win situation. Or maybe artists could be sponsored by corporations, the way athletes are.

But to be realistic, whatever the future holds, it can’t be much worse than the current situation. Out of the many musicians I have met, I can’t think of one who makes their living from selling CDs/MP3s. Most of them lose more money than they make. Meanwhile, they are still gearing their work to appeal to the very market which will never support them, losing both money and integrity in one fell swoop. Adding insult to injury, they are made to feel that their lack of financial success reflects the worthlessness of what they are creating. If only they had as much to offer as Bono, they would be living in a castle as well. So, if art was no longer expected to make money, perhaps they would be no richer than before, but at least they wouldn’t have to live with the shame of being a failed human being. They could seek new, internal forms of validation. This would lead to more meaningful art.

Just as capitalism motivates us to make money, it can also discourage us from pursuing other sorts of goals. But we shouldn’t let this happen, because a society in which every person’s goal is to make money will be a very poor society, spiritually and emotionally. I think we should have all sorts of people working for free- not just musicians, but also scientists, do-gooders,  inventors, and more. We need inputs uninfluenced by the market to create a vibrant amount of diversity. In the end, of course, this could only work if the people who do make money wanted to use some of it to freely support others. But I think people would enjoy this. After all, who would slave over a roast turkey if they had to eat it all by themselves?

 

Feminism and Me

Feminism is not something I resonate with. Had I lived in the 19th century, I would probably have been a feminist, and if I lived in a Muslim country, I might be one as well. But in 21st century America, where women already have the same rights as men, the idea of getting still more “rights” feels a bit threatening. I don’t want any more rights, especially when these rights seem to entail having a job, paying half the rent, joining the army, lifting heavy boxes, and being fascinated by science. I would rather just decorate cookies and leave the extra rights for somebody else.

In a way, I like where gender relations stand at the moment, how ambiguous they are. I don’t want to go back to a time when women were expected to wear high heels and have dinner on the table when their husband came home (if such a time existed), but I also don’t want to go forward to a time when women have all the pressures and burdens of men on their shoulders. Is there another alternative?

Do you ever think of a nation-state as a living organism? I do. And sometimes I feel that feminism represents our nation’s desire to have all of it’s population involved in taxable labor, and all of it’s population available for the draft, in order to double it’s power.  After all, equalizing men and women was always a big focus of communists movements. It meant that no one was exempt from the government’s needs and desires.

Regardless, it is hard for me to see feminism as anything other than a social engineering campaign “encouraging” women to embrace more masculine aspirations. And it hard to see, in a nation already overflowing with masculine aspirations, how funneling more humans into the rat race will make life better for anyone. Do we really need life to run faster and harder, with no one sitting on the sidelines to watch and reflect? Do we really want more lawyers and fewer homemade cookies?

I can see why women don’t necessarily want to stay home and bake cookies, though. We are a nation of masculine values and we respect masculine qualities much more than feminine ones. In the movies, the “strong” female characters tend to be rocket scientists who love to shoot hoops on the side.  A “good role model for girls” means a female who puts her career first and rapidly rises to the top. The external self, competing and receiving awards, is placed high above the internal, subjective self.  The “office” is the place where you can fulfill your potential. Home is a place to recover from the office, a place where you’ll rot if you linger too long.

To me, women represent the home, and the home represents the inner self. Many aspects of feminism make me feel that the inner self is under attack, being urged to spend more and more of itself seeking external validation. A society can’t tip too far in the direction of the masculine without becoming mechanical, robotic, unable to reflect or decide what has value. Life becomes a game, a game we can never stop playing even when it ceases to be fulfilling.

Sometimes I wonder what it means to be a woman. I think of all the women I have known, mean and aggressive, sweet and kind, cunning and malicious, nurturing and caring… what do they all have in common? So far I have thought of only one thing. They all like to decorate. Maybe cookies, their home, hair, greeting cards, scrapbooks, makeup, flowers, clothes, weddings and theme parties… I have yet to think of a female who doesn’t get a bit giddy when given the chance to express herself aesthetically. Some like to knit, and some want to glue rhinestones to their phone, but they all want to make something pretty. Selecting new towels for the bathroom, making fuzzy teddy bears to hang on the Christmas tree- I like to think these are powerful and important actions, little magic spells that vibrate outwards, setting a course for the future, travelling back in time to rewrite history. In my fantasy, women are the magicians of humanity, and men have traditionally protected them for a reason- because they are valuable.

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Now I’d like to get petty for a moment, and list some of feminism’s current sentiments which I do not share.

1. Some feminists are concerned that preteen girls tend to lose interest in math and science.

Good for them, I say! If they are losing interest in math and science, they are probably gaining interest in other subjects, like art and literature. That is the way life works- we all bend towards our own sunshine. In my opinion, the real problem is believing math and science are more important than the subjects girls tend to favor.

2. Some feminists are concerned that women account for only about 5% of the CEOs of Fortune 500 Companies.

This seems like a reason to celebrate! After all, what percentage of humans truly want to devote their life to climbing the corporate ladder? If there are fewer women at the tip tops of these ladders, it could be because they have more opportunity to escape from the pressurized, regimented lifestyle that so many humans feel trapped in. Perhaps this is a sign of chivalry- husbands gallantly allowing their wives to climb down from the punishing ladders while they stay behind to toil.

3. Some feminists are concerned that women are discouraged from being bossy.

I wish! But unfortunately, mean and bossy women are all around me, showing no signs of discouragement. Take a moment to think back through all the people you have known, and- if your life has been anything like mine- you will realize there a quite a few more bossy women in the world than there are bossy men.  If women are being discouraged from bossiness, it clearly isn’t working.

4.Some feminists seem to equate female empowerment with promiscuity and self-objectification.

In my women’s studies classes, for example, people would empower themselves by entering “hot legs contests” and that sort of thing.  Why do I think this is a bad idea? Because it makes you attractive to the worst sort of men. Some say it’s always flattering to be found attractive, but I disagree. Humans are attracted to all sorts of things- from dead bodies to men’s butts. To feel good about yourself because a sex predator finds you gorgeous is a dangerous habit. Same with being a slut. Sluttishness gets a bad reputation, because it puts the slut in physical and emotional danger. Could it be a decent lifestyle for the Indiana Jones, bungee cord jumping sort of female? Maybe. But generally, people get hurt.

5. Some feminists believe, when a rape has been committed, we should believe the victim.

In this case, I would like to agree, because look around- victims are frequently punished for speaking up while their perpetrators go on to win golden medals of honor. Ugh. But, once again, look around- some women are tricky. And playing the victim is the psychopathic female’s most common method of attack. A rape is like a murder, we have to dig and peer behind the curtains until we find the real truth. We can’t safely assume anything.

6. Some feminists (like Russell Crowe) do weird things like stick the words “#he for she” on their heads with post-it notes.

At first I felt flattered by this. Wow- Russell Crowe likes me! I even imagined myself calling him to borrow twenty dollars in a time of need. But then again, he is also on the side of every cruel and malicious female who ever walked the planet. I imagined one of them calling him to say he shouldn’t give me twenty dollars. And so he didn’t.

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Still, I don’t want you to think of me as someone incapable of feminist sentiment. I don’t like it, for example, when women in movies are portrayed as empty shells with nothing living inside.  I even stage my own mini-feminist riots by writing these movies one-star reviews on Amazon.

At the same time, being portrayed in a devaluing light isn’t always a bad thing. When people cast us in a positive light, it is all too easy to wallow in that blissful glow and develop the deadly habit of sourcing our self-esteem and self-image from the outside world. When people demean us, at least it makes it a bit easier to cut loose and go our own way.

In the end, I guess I don’t really believe in changing the world. The world is a burrito-  try to change it, and you’re just going to end up with an enchilada, a chimichanga… maybe some soft tacos. What’s the point? But if you become yourself- then you are bringing a new ingredient to the table. And eventually, new ingredients will lead to radically new dishes.