Learning How to Let it Be from The Beatles’ Get Back Film

November 28, 2021

Fab Spoilers Follow

Like pretty much every Beatle fan, I’ve been waiting on Peter Jackson’s epic recut of the the Beatles’ 1970 Let It Be film. I first saw it as a midnight movie in Stone Mountain, Georgia in 1978, wincing when the rednecks hissed at Yoko Ono’s first appearance on the screen. The 1970 film was a sad document of a fabled band breaking up. Get Back, the new film, culled from 60 hours of unseen footage from those sessions, promised to rewrite the narrative of January 1969, which George Harrison had branded, “the winter of our discontent.”

I geared up for the Thanksgiving event by buying the 5 disc Let It Be “Super Deluxe” box set and reviewing it on my YouTube channel. I’d read everything about the sessions in the previous 40+ years, so I wasn’t expecting any surprises. And yet, all I got were surprises. It wasn’t just the insight into the working process of the band (Ringo’s farting not withstanding). It was the psychological dissection of what happens when strong personalities stifle equally strong personalities.

Thanksgiving morning Andrea and Cozy came over so we could make this viewing a family event. Andi and I curled up on the couch together and fell into the first part of the six-hour three-day fab fest the world had been waiting for. Besides the brilliant ’69 fashions and endless smoking, which made us both briefly made us consider taking up the habit, was the revelation of the psychodynamic between John, Paul, George, and Ringo. In the first episode, there’s a moment when Paul discusses and accepts that he is losing his lifelong best friend to Yoko. Paul, looking old at 26, mourns the man who had been his musical partner since he was 14. There’s a long silent shot and you can see his eyes dampen. The realization that closeness is not locked in for life is shattering. John was now “John and Yoko.” No wonder Paul McCartney fell into a deep depression a year later.

But the great story is George Harrison’s rebellion. The Beatles were Lennon and McCartney’s band, both in camera time and musical direction. The quiet Beatle was lucky to get a few of his own tunes on each album. By 1969 he’d been hanging out with Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan and The Band but was still relegated to sideman in his own group. The songs he was bringing into the band were equal to Paul’s and even better than the ones John was bringing in. (John was checked out, on Yoko and on smack.) Just listen to the Beatles’ version of George’s “All Things Must Pass” and you can see how the understudy had become the master.

George could have just taken it all on the chin, the price of being a Beatle. But on January 10th, George stood up for himself and quit The Beatles. After seven days of rehearsing mostly Paul’s songs in a dank soundstage, George walked out saying, “See you ‘round the clubs,” and that was it. The Beatles were now a trio. Years later, in The Beatles Anthology (1995), George recalled his thinking at the time. “What’s the point of this? I’m quite capable of being relatively happy on my own and I’m not able to be happy in this situation. I’m getting out of here.” Certainly there’s more we don’t see on the screen in Get Back, including financial headaches at Apple and George’s crumbling marriage (apparently he was shacked up with Clapton’s ex-girlfriend at the time), but we see the youngest Beatle take a stand for his own sanity.

We also see John, Paul, and Ringo sink into a mild panic at George’s departure. John suggest recruiting Clapton, who had played on 1968’s Beatle classic “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” They end up heading off on a visit (and then a second) to their young friend’s house to cajole him back into Beatledom. End of episode one.

Andrea and I reconvened on the couch the following day for Episode Two as the Beatles reconvened at Apple headquarters. Watching the Fabs, George included, enter the white office building on 3 Saville Row gave us a kick has we had been in the building on our trip to London in 2018. It’s now an Abercrombie Kids store. And yes they sell Beatles shirts. In 1982, I actually snuck onto the roof of the then empty building but we were seeing the reunited quartet walk in the same door we had. Turns out that one of George’s conditions to return was that the band move to the warmer Apple studio in the basement of 3 Saville Row.

The sweet spot occurs on January 11th, George’s second day back when he brings in old friend of the band, Billy Preston. Billy sits in on keyboards on tunes like “I’ve Got a Feeling” and “Don’t Let Me Down” and the chemistry is instant. These much labored-over songs now sound like album tracks. The look on George’s face was ecstatic, like you assholes downplayed my creative input and I just saved this imploding band. Oh, the satisfaction he must have felt.

Andi and I had a long conversation afterwards about how stifling a person’s true self just doles out misery around the circle. But when you honor their whole potential everyone benefits. There certainly were parallels in our situation as just a few weeks prior she had told me, “See you ‘round the clubs.” Without knowing it, I had been Paul McCartney, trying to make “our band” my band. I thought I was doing her a favor “letting her” have a few songs when she had a triple album’s worth of material ready to go that was far superior to my silly love songs.

We stayed up until midnight to catch the premiere of Episode Three, that took the band up to the roof of Apple, where I would stand 12 years later. On that cold January 30th day nearly 53 years ago, the lads were in their true element, full of joy as a cohesive creative unit, blasting out “Get Back” to the curious listeners below. “I want to look at you the way Paul looks at John,” Andi said. I just want her to have the smile that George Harrison had on that rooftop. As we prepared to step back into our separate lives, feeling finally fully present with her true self, I thanked her for three of the best days I’d had in my life, spent with her, our daughter, and the Beatles. And I hope I passed the audition.

Taking You Lumps: Remote Gender Work

November 19, 2021

Blogs are ultimately about personal journeys. I began this blog on November 24, 2014 as a daily chronicle of my life as stay-at-home dad. I intended it to be me channelling the porto-feminism of pioneering house-husband John Lennon. That lasted exactly one day. By November 25th, I was writing about the uprising in Ferguson, Missouri in what would be the first in a long line of posts about the Black Lives Matter movement. In those seven years, my writing has ranged from family life stories to global gender politics and everything in between.

There have been two pillars in this writing. The first is the firm belief that we are all works in progress, never fully complete. We can’t make the world a better place if we are not willing to make ourselves better people. And mistakes will be made. That’s part of the process. The second pillar has been how I’ve benefitted from the input from my wife, Andrea. Her patience, strength, and wisdom have pushed me to be that better man. And her experience as a member of a few different marginalized populations has allowed me to confront my own privileges head on. If I could only give her as much as she’s given me.

So here’s one of those entries about the need to evolve. 

It’s been clear in this year of revelations that I still have a lot of work to do on myself. Uncovering my abuse story has helped me see the roots of some of my narcissistic personality traits, but that doesn’t automatically cure them. So Andrea has moved out so I could focus on that work. She got a studio apartment nearby and I helped her move in. The three of us had dinner there that first night as I let this separation settle in. We talk constantly and she’s endlessly encouraging. We have dates planned and I bring her coffee in the morning. But this is time set aside for me to make my mindfulness practices my natural way of being and for her to figure out if the woman she’s become fits with the man I’m becoming.

I have a pretty heavy lecture in my criminology class about domestic violence and about how battered women who flee abuse are as likely to be killed by their male partners as they are by staying with them. (Then I tell them to watch Sleeping with the Enemy and listen to “Goodbye Earl” by the Dixie Chicks.) Research on wife-killers shows these man can’t handle that “their” women have been rejected and just snap. It’s the ultimate act of patriarchal control.

While the thought of violence has never crossed my mind, I’ve never been very good at break-ups, centering my emotional pain instead of what’s best for my (former) partners. Just ask my first girlfriend who ended our relationship so she could spend a year studying in Paris. I got to Paris a few weeks before her and spray-painted her name all over the city, including on a stature of Moliére at the Sorbonne, where she would be enrolled. I thought I was being wildly romantic, but I was just being wildly creepy, inserting myself into her post-Randy life in the City of Light.

So the evolved version of me has kicked that version of masculinity to the curb. This is about what Andi needs right now and how I can listen and deliver. Certainly 2021 has been filled with examples of me not doing that, including plenty of mad examples of me freaking out as I fell down the rabbit hole of panic and defensiveness that were shaped by a lifetime of acting out the patterns created by my childhood abuse. Putting in the work is under way. I finally feel like an adult and instead of a petulant child and it feels good. I enter this phase with respect, grace, a mountain of admiration for this woman who I will get to know in a completely new way.

My great hope is this process won’t take long. Apartments in Portland are not cheap and it’s coming out of her pocket. We have a trip to Paris planned for this spring and that spray-paint will have long faded away. I’m committed to making that the case for the version of me that took her for granted. Faded away like a lovelorn teenager’s graffiti. 

Confronting Misogyny in Family Feud America

November 13, 2021

I think there was a naive hope that when the Orange Führur was banished from the White House (and Twitter) that the levels of toxic masculinity would ease off a bit. But this is patriarchal America and misogyny is our most hallowed value. Brittney Spears might be free, but the alt-right regularly refers to our vice-president as “Cum-Allah” and continues to plot its boogaloo boy revolution. Nothing triggers fragile men like ending middle eastern wars and a new Adele album.

I was reminded of this one night when the three of us were chomping on burritos while watching the produced-in-Atlanta game show Family Feud. I’ve enjoyed it since the Richard Dawson seventies and Steve Harvey does some pretty hilarious adlib comedy. It seemed like some harmless family entertainment since we’d burned through every episode of the capitalist propaganda-fest that is Shark Tank.

I’d noticed the “survey says” answers on the show’s gameboard occasionally went a little “off color” to go for the cheap laugh, but the Feud really showed its true colors one November night. The question was, “What is one thing a man could do that would cause his wife not to stand up for him.” Of course, the top answer was “cheat,” but when it flipped up on the gameboard what the oh-so-sophisticated writers had for the winning answer was, “CHEAT/GET A HO PREGGO.” I looked at Andi and she looked at me and then we both looked at our 7-year-old daughter. And then we shut the TV off.

Steve Harvey didn’t say anything about it and neither did anyone else as far as I can tell. This is how normalized sexism still is in 2021. If a woman gets pregnant with a married man, she must be a whore. And the chorus of “It was a joke! Get over it!” comes in to make the degradation of women just part of the normal background noise. Nothing to get upset about. Imagine if the “joke” about the “ho” had been about a “coon” or some other racist slur. We’d have heard about it then. Racism gets a rally and sexism get a yawn. That’s because patriarchy goes back a lot farther than white supremacy. And white supremacy goes way back.

This was playing out the same time that Arizona Republican Paul Gosar (who is a dentist and sits in the United State Congress) was joking about violently murdering Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Twitter. And this complete psycho (visit his Twitter feed if you want a glimpse of the current state of Idiocracy) is still seated in the House of Representatives. This is how little we value women and girls in our country. Afghanistan, hold my beer.

I was reminded of how far we hadn’t come, babe, when we were shopping for our daughter’s Halloween costume. The costume store had segregated the costumes by gender (separate but definitely not equal). In the kids section, the boys costumes were various superheroes, serial killers, and Mindcraft stuff. The girls section was primarily, sexy nurse, sexy zombie, and sexy schoolgirl. These were the costumes for second grade girls. Cozy picked out a “sexy devil” costume that we figured we could modify to not catch the eyes of the Jeffrey Epsteins in the neighborhood. The sexualization of elementary school girls is not new but when it’s your second grader, you want to burn the costume store, Spirit Halloween, to the fucking ground.

I know this giant tanker of sexism takes time around. More women are now graduating from college than men. And women have outnumbered men in the workforce since 2010. But it’s the everyday sexism that cuts women and girls off at the knees. And it will continue to sabotage their deserved equity unit men say this must stop. (I zipped off a fervent Tweet to Steve Harvey and his show which we will no longer watch). I can only shield my daughter from so much sexist bullshit. I’m gonna need some help from my brothers in arms.

Follow Up: Fixing What’s Broken

November 7, 2021

I needed to let the dust settle after that one.

When I wrote my little “coming out” piece about my experience with sexual abuse a few weeks ago, I wrote it for an audience of two. I wrote if for myself, because I needed to say these things out loud so I could start the healing. And I wrote it for my wife because I was desperate to mend the damage my behavior had caused in our relationship. I had already discussed it with my parents who were surprisingly tranquil about the news that their four-year-old son had been sexually abused. My mother seemed to separate herself from any of the events and my father thought it was a good explanation for how I treated my little brother. Now, as then, they didn’t seem concerned for my emotional well being.

Who did care about me were many of my friends. When I posted the link to the story on my Facebook page I got so many wonderful messages, including friends coming out about their own victimization stories, some leading to failed marriages and life-long challenges. It meant so much and also let me know how many of us are struggling with the adult effects of childhood trauma. We are a statistic (1 in 7), but we are also pieces of the story of humanity. The narcissist in me could be seen as saying, “Hey, look at me! I’m an abuse victim, too!” I thought about that before I posted it. But I think it just needed to be said and I’m glad I did. It was like taking a breath.

The hard part about this is the realization of brokenness. I was pretty cool before, just bopping along, blaming all my problems on other people. I had a poem called “Psycho Chick Magnet” that I’d perform at readings in the 90s to laughter and a lot of dudes saying, “Me, too!” I now see that I was the psycho. My fucked-up defense mechanisms gas lit them. They were crazy. But they weren’t crazy. I was deeply damaged.

Now that I know this, it’s endlessly frustrating. I know what the problem patterns are. I know what the root cause is. I know the behavioral shift to make everything work like it should. Sounds super simple, right? This pattern is fucking up your life, so just stop doing it. This the part where I tell you that I am so completely broken that I’m not sure I can fix it. These patterns have evolved over a half century and I was a fool to think I could snap my fingers and be a different person. That the wirings of my brain that were the result of trauma in a 4-year old boy could just be switched off and I would forever be in the green zone.

Since I posted my story, I’ve fallen off the “Grown Up Randy” train a dozen times. Here’s just the latest example. I thought it would be fun to spend a rainy Sunday at the movies, so Cozy, Andi, and I went to go see Addam’s Family 2 at the Kennedy School. Cozy had her popcorn and lemonade. Andi and I had our beer and held hands and cuddled during the movie, which meant a lot because there had been some me-caused tension (surprise!) earlier in the day. After the film, Andi commented that it would have been nice if I would have put my arm around her. I should have just listened and said I would next time. But instead the four-year old me, who was stuck defending against endless attacks, popped up and ruined everything. I got defensive and felt like nothing I did was enough. I became the asshole that I swore I wouldn’t.

Our therapist warned against expecting immediate results. That changing patterns was like a snake shedding its skin and that old skin was sticky. That makes sense but tell it to my wife who is past her tolerance level fo sticky snake skin. But the feeling sinks in. That I will never break the patterns that were created in me by an entitled babysitter in 1968. It’s nearly unbearable because I see the harm it causes. I should be smart enough to figure this out.

I’ve been doing some research on Polyvagal Theory and how trauma rewires the nervous system. I now understand the my reactive nature is pretty much baked into my body. More great information but still doesn’t get me out of this loop I’m stuck in. All the enlightenment in the world doesn’t carry you out of the darkness.

The only point to this blogpost is to report on how hard this work is. There’s a good chance I will have to do it on my own, but I do it for that little kid who I was and the man I hope to become. You can only shoot yourself in the foot so many times.

Afterthought: I was listening to the news of the world leaders in Glasgow trying to kick the can on the global climate crisis. We know what the problem is. We know what the cause is. We know what behavior change is required to fix things. You can only shoot yourself in foot so many times, earth people. (I am the world. I am the inner children.)

I am the victim of child sexual abuse and it made me toxic.

October 22, 2021

I have a few clear memories from when I was four-years-old. I remember the birch trees in our front yard in Parma Heights and turning my tricycle upside down, pretending it was an ice cream machine. I remember doing the Tarzan call over our back fence, hoping my neighbor, Sharon, would climb over to play. I remember my breath becoming condensation on the inside of my Secret Squirrel Halloween mask. I remember the Christmas tree and learning that I could swallow SpaghettiO’s without chewing them. I didn’t remember being molested.

This might be the hardest thing I’ve ever written but I have to. I have to because I remember now and that memory has allowed me to connect so many dots in my life, a series of dots that includes a trail of tears full of damaged relationships with family members and other people I supposedly loved. Two failed marriages and a third that is hanging by the tiniest of threads. All connected to one weekend in 1968.

Over the years I’ve trumpeted the benefits of therapy as a place of self-evolution and fixing broken patterns. “I worry about the people NOT in therapy,” I’d tell my students. Since my first drop into clinical depression, that I fictionalized in my novel, The Mission of the Sacred Heart, therapy has been a place to put out the emotional fires. But it’s often just tinkering around the edges and not getting to the root. The root takes time to dig down to, maybe years.

I was in couples counseling about a dozen years ago when I had a very clear childhood memory that stopped me cold. My young parents were looking for their American dream and got involved in some of those “multi-level marketing schemes,” like Amway. They would take weekends to go to sales seminars and drop me off with an older couple that lived down the block. While sitting on our therapists couch, I remembered my parents picking me up at the end of a weekend away and me crying uncontrollably, thinking they had left me with these people forever and being so relieved they hadn’t. I chalked it up to a root cause of my vague abandonment issues and moved on.

This pandemic has offered us an opportunity for self work. My patient and loving wife has helped me to identify my tendency to center myself instead of her in our marriage. (Something I’ve written about in this blog.) She was strong enough to name it; narcissism. She gave me reading list on the subject so I could continue my work. I was reading one of her recommendations, Why Do I Do That? Psychological Defense Mechanisms and the Hidden Ways They Shape Our Lives, and I began to see a lifelong pattern that started with endless fights with my younger brother and my tendency to be in perpetual “battle mode” in my romantic relationships. But I was puzzled about why I could see this pattern and seemingly be powerless to stop it.

Then, one day, because I really wanted to know, I was reading about theories on the origin of Narcissistic Personality Syndrome. And there it was in black and white, that one root can be child sexual abuse. It was like great whooshing enveloped me. I suddenly remembered why I was crying so hard when my parents picked me up from the neighbor babysitters. I had a crystal clear memory of being in the guest room, window facing the street, with the man, maybe twice as old as my 25-year-old father, standing in front of me, staring, with my clothes in a pile on the floor in front of me. The memory gets a little hazy after that, but I know I was crying because I needed my parents to rescue me from how that man was hurting me.

Realizing this literally stopped my breath. I began to hyperventilate and then sob. The timing was not perfect because I was in the middle of a me-caused crisis with my wife. I had shared an intimate detail of our lives with a friend (who was really just a local bartender) that she had asked me not to share. I had betrayed her trust in the most callous of ways for no reason other than momentary titillation, wounding this person I claim to love. This realization shed light on that and so much more. My hyper-sexuality, my narcissism, and probably why I never had a best friend. 

That 4-year-old didn’t have the skills to stop this abuse so he erected a wall around himself for protection. I entered into a world where I constantly had to be on guard and defend myself. Everyone was a potential attacker, including my little brother, who I was endlessly cruel towards. I would see his efforts to emulate me as sinister attempts to take the things that were unique about me for himself. At age 10 I remember freaking out because he said he liked Elton John. Elton John was mine! I should have just said, “Yeah, Ronnie. Elton is awesome. Let me play you some of my favorite songs.” Instead I beat him up. That hyper-defensiveness and self-centering (and fortunately not the violence) followed me into adulthood and sabotaged every single romantic relationship I entered. I can provide you a list of women who will testify that was not a very good boyfriend or husband.

That 4-year-old also didn’t have the skills to process what was occurring. How could my parents let this happen? So all that trauma got folded into my subconscious and came out in my toxic personality traits. That’s where it hid until I was 57-years old, and by then those brain pathways were pretty well-worn grooves.

I found a new therapist to help me work on this psychodynamic that has only hurt people I love. She’s a hypo-therapist, so much of the work has involved talking to that 4-year-old who has been in control of my mind and behavior since 1968. I can take care of him, acknowledge his pain, and move forward as the adult version of me. But that kid is strong. He doesn’t want to let go. One thing that is painfully clear is that alcohol, something often abused by adult abuse victims, lets that kid out with a vengeance. So as of today, I’m going back to my straightedge tendencies. No more Portland benders. I can’t let the child cause more pain. And he’s caused a lot pain.

The research is clear, people who experience trauma tend to traumatize others. Veterans with PTSD have higher rates among domestic abusers. So many of the hate criminals I’ve studied over the years have histories of abuse in their background. Roughly one in seven American children experiences abuse, and you can bet that many of them are going to turn that pain outward, creating an endless cycle of trauma.

One of my favorite novels is Nick Hornby’s 1995 book, High Fidelity. The protagonist, Rob, is going through another break-up and decides to write all his ex’s to ask them why they broke up with him. I’m tempted to write all my ex’s to tell them that I know why they broke up with me and to apologize. Profusely. But my work has be in the present, being ever-mindful of this hurt 4-year-old that lives inside me. His need to lash out and erect walls has destroyed so much. I want to give him love and protection so he, and the other people I love, can finally feel centered and safe with me.

I know two things. What happened to me wasn’t my fault and that this internal dynamic that my abuse shaped is not an easy thing to change. Wish me luck on this path. It’s not going to be a straight line. And also that I’m sorry that I didn’t figure this out sooner. So sorry.

2028: A Letter to My 14-year-old Daughter at the Half-way Mark

September 27, 2021

Our daughter, Cozette turned seven last month and she’s way ahead of where I was in terms of coolness. When I was a new second grader at Highland Christian Academy, I didn’t even know the #1 single for that week (“Maggie May”), but I did know the Frito Bandito song. Cozy can riff on some Dua Lipa cuts and has a vast knowledge of classic rock lyrics. (She has a soft spot for Lindsey Buckingham’s Fleetwood Mac songs.) Cozy is well-versed, from Coltrane to Storm Large.

It just dawned on me that, at 7, she is halfway to 14, which was a big year for me and my musical coming out, so I thought I should write her a letter now and tuck it away on this blog until 2028.

Dear Cozy,

Happy 14th birthday! Every day with you has been a thrill and it’s so exciting to see you ready to rock 9th grade. You have turned into the most joyful, complex, and kind young woman I know. And even though your mom and I have had some influence, who you are comes from some wonderful spark that exists deep inside you. I thought I’d use this moment to tell you a little bit about what I was like when I was 14 and make a birthday promise to you.

I turned 14 fifty years ago in 1978. It was a great year of self-discovery and what I like to think of as my “musical coming out” year. You know what a role music has played in my life, starting with my pre-school raiding of my parents jazz records and endless hours listening to your grandmother playing Scott Joplin rags on the baby grand piano in our living room. But 1978 was different. It was the year your grandparents started letting their oldest son go to concerts without adults!

I already had caught the concert bug the year before. (Ask me someday what it was like to see Kiss in concert in 1977). For some reason, once I turned 14, my folks trusted me enough to let me go to concerts with my friends. And we went to every big show that came through Atlanta, from Blondie (at the Fox Theater) to Black Sabbath (at the Omni). In fact, if you listen to the 1978 live Blue Oyster Cult album, Some Enchanted Evening, (recorded at the Fox Theater) you can hear Charlie, Richie, and I screaming our lungs out.

You know how exciting live music is. Officially, your first concert was U2 in Vancouver, BC on May 15, 2015. For the record, you were 9 months old and The Edge fell off the stage. We’ve been to countless shows together since then. You know about the anticipation swelling as the main act is about to take the stage. You know about singing along with the actual people on the recording. You know about your ears ringing when it’s all over.

When I was 14, the other element at concerts was drugs. A lot of drugs. And everything else. I remember a guy drinking straight Jack Daniels before a Who concert, and telling everyone it was his life’s dream to see The Who in concert. By the time The Who took the stage, he was passed out drunk. Missed the entire show. I’m sure he told all his friends how brilliant the concert was. Those concerts were too important for me to miss a thing. I was clear-eyed sober, focused on every element of the experience, every guitar solo, every screaming fan pressed against the stage. And I remember them all 50 years later. Just a suggestion about the value of a clear head. You’ll want to remember this stuff.

Concerts were where I found my tribe. Other music fanatics and the various subtribes. By 15, I was firmly in the mod/punk/new wave tribe and going to Ramones shows. But at 14, it was all brand new. I people watched as much as band watched.

So you are at a magical spot right now. Given life expectancies in 2028, you’ve got another 70+ years of life ahead of you. That means you’ve got 14 years behind you, much of which you don’t remember because you were little, and 70 years ahead of you. The future is wide open. Most of my life is behind me, which is why I bore you with stories of the distant past. But for you there is this incredible newness and potential wrapped up in every experience. I would give anything to hear music that way I did in 1978. For my 14th birthday, I got the debut album of a band called Van Halen and you would have thought the Rapture had unfolded on Earth. That album was like a lightning bolt from God. (Our poor neighbors in Stone Mountain who had to tolerate me playing “You Really Got Me,” at full volume over and over again.) I can listen to that record now and it sounds nothing like it did when I was 14. Now, it’s just a classic rock classic. Then, it was EVERYTHING.

I know kids always get tired of us old folks saying, “Youth is wasted on the wrong people,” or “enjoy your youth.” But we’re speaking from a place of regret. I wish I would have known about the magic of 14 when I was 14. I just wanted to be 18, or 25, or 30. (Definitely not 64.) I’m begging you to take it all in. Close your eyes and turn the volume up all the way. Take a minute to feel how the sound lands on your body and what it connects you to in this moment in history. For me, it gave me the dream of escape; to the lower east side of Manhattan, to Liverpool, to London, or to wherever Styx wanted me to sail away to.

That’s my request. Listen and connect your music to your space and time and maybe your own tribe. My promise is, now that you’re 14, you can go to concerts without me. You have a great set of friends and I trust you to be there for the music. I will still drop you off and pick you up (unless I need my driverless car to do it), but you are free to be as fully into the experience of live music as I was at your age. And feel free to pick music that you think I will hate, because that’s also what 14 is about. (Bringing home the Sex Pistols album at 14 almost got me booted from the Blazak family.) You will find your people at shows. And you’ll find fashions. And you’ll find great opening bands that you will end up loving more than the headliners.

Fourteen is go time. It’s new car smell. It’s endless discoveries. It’s an entire human history of possibilities. And it’s music that will mean EVERYTHING. Go get it. I’ll be there to give you a ride home.

Love,

Dad

Death By a Thousand 9/11s

September 11, 2021

They say one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter. From the perspective of a lowly stormtrooper inside the Death Star, Luke Skywalker and his band of rebel fighters, guided by an archaic religion, were not heroes, but mass murderers. Was the U.S drone strike that targeted ISIS-K in Kabul on August 29th a part of our righteous war on terror or was it a terrorist attack that killed seven children (and no ISIS fighters)? Remember when Bill Maher said, on his show Politically Incorrect, the 9/11 hijackers were not cowards, but those who launch cruise missiles from 2000 miles away were and ABC canned him? Are we even allowed to ask these questions?

Today is not the day to debate whether or not the attacks twenty years ago were terrorism. They most certainly were. If they weren’t, the word has no meaning. Anyone who was alive and old enough to pay attention on September 11, 2001 (and now a quarter of Americans weren’t), felt the terror. I had just flown to Atlanta on 9/10 for my 20th high school reunion and my dad woke me up in time for me to see the second plane slam into the World Trade Center. I remember saying out loud, “What the hell is happening?” as Peter Jennings attempted to translate the untranslatable. It was about to get worse. Much worse.

The U.S. government defines terrorism as, ““the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives” (28 C.F.R. Section 0.85). Much of my work is built around the description of hate crimes as acts of terrorism. Why do we not think of the 9/11 attacks as merely 2,977 murders? Because all Americans were the targets. I had a friend from college who was in Tower 1. Osama bin Laden didn’t know about him, or have anything against him personally. (Three of my former Emory classmates were killed in the New York attacks.) He was a random target, a death meant to intimidate a larger civilian population. And it worked. It was several months after 9/11 before I could enter a tall building or drive over a Portland bridge without thinking of a passenger plane crashing into it.

Hate crimes work the same way. Like the victims of 9/11, targets are randomly selected for their symbolic value, to coerce others like the targets that they aren’t wanted here. Leave. A burning cross, a gay bashing, a swastika on a synagogue, all meant to terrorize large populations. After the 9/11 attacks hate crimes against American Arabs and Muslim (and people perceived to be Arab and/or Muslim) increased 500%. Four days after the attack a Sikh named Balbir Singh Sodhi was shot in the head in a gas station in Mesa, Arizona by a white male who claimed he seeking revenge for the 9/11 attacks. Not only were Arab and Muslim-Americans living in fear, but so were Sikhs and others. (Here in Portland, an Italian man was beaten by three teenagers after the attacks because he was perceived to be Middle Eastern.) 2001 wasn’t an anomaly. Just this week, data released but the FBI revealed that hate crimes increased dramatically in 2020. Who is terrorizing whom?

On this sad occasion, I’m reminded of how the Bush-Cheney-Halliburton Administration tried to falsely pin 9/11 on Saddam Hussein, leading to the invasion of the wrong county, a protracted and completely unnecessary war that was responsible for the death in over 4000 U.S. troops, and over half a million Iraqi men, women, and children killed. But we were the ones fighting terrorism. We couldn’t possibly be the terrorists. Could we?

I visited Ground Zero the summer following the attack and I could still smell the dust of all the souls who had been atomized on that Tuesday in September. I’ve been to New York at least a dozen times since then and always notice what’s not there and what is. My recurring 9/11 dreams were central to my 2016 novel, The Dream Police. At the 9/11 memorial when I see the names of the victims who were pregnant women, I can’t help but convulse and every trip I make to Washington DC, I have a moment when I wonder what would have happened if the fourth plane had hit its intended target, the U.S. Capitol building. I carry this as trauma as does every American, to varying degrees, who remembers that day.

But we also carry the trauma of all the other acts of terrorism, many done in our name or done by people who look like us against people who don’t look like us. We’ve become blasé to the trauma and really good at rationalizing the traumatizing of others. We’ve become masters at dehumanizing the “other.” They see us as “infidels” and we see them as “fanatics.” They see us as “libtards” and we see them as “Nazis.” Nobody is just a human being capable of love and redeemable imperfection. If you told members of the radical right or the radical left they could push a button to launch a drone strike to wipe out the other side, the air would be filled robots on their death trips.

Trauma requires healing and there has been a lot of healing in the last 20 years. New Yorkers are resilient. The passengers on Flight 93 showed great courage in the face of their own deaths. And the work of the war machine that launches drone strikes into wherever continues at the Pentagon. But the healing is hampered by all the other terror we inflict on each other. An open wound never truly heals.

I will never forget that day. The confusion of wondering if it was real or a movie. The image of people choosing to jump rather than burn. The realization that the world would never be the same. But I will also never forget a lot of other things, including what happened in a Mesa, Arizona gas station four days after the attack and what happened two weeks ago in Kabul. Never forget any of it.

Freedom Morons: What am I supposed to think about people who refuse get vaccinated?

August 27, 2021

“Medical tyranny!”

My capacity for empathy is really being challenged in 2021. The Delta variant is raging across the country, now putting children in hospitals. ICU beds are filled to capacity with unvaccinated COVID patients who are not vaccinated because they didn’t have access to immunization. They chose to be unvaccinated. Over 80 million Americans are still unvaccinated. A recent poll found that 29 percent of Republicans refuse to get vaccinated. (Side note: I’m old enough to remember when Republicans were private school snobs and Democrats were knuckle dragging factory workers. Now Democrats are the over-educated Volvo drivers and Republicans are the Neanderthals who believe whatever noted white supremacist Tucker Carlson tells them to believe. “The election was stolen!” “Tom Hanks is an alien pedophile!”)

Variants rage through America and kids are on ventilators because of these people. A North Carolina study found that the unvaccinated are 15 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than the unvaccinated , but there’s an anti-mask rally coming to your town. We’re 10 minutes away from another economy-crushing shutdown because MAGA Mike hates the CDC and thinks Dr. Anthony Fauci is out to destroy America. I’m not talking about cancer patients and other immunocompromised people who can’t tolerate the vaccine. I’m talking about people like Marjorie Taylor Greene who equate mask mandates with the Holocaust. I’m talking about people who claim they have “medical research” to back up their positions, but none of it is in peer reviewed science journals.

What am I supposed to think of these people?

The sociologist and educator wants to see these people as victims. They’ve been manipulated by right-wing media and self-serving politicians, like Florida governor Ron DeSantis. They’re the result of 40 years of defunding education that’s replaced scientific research with something you saw on YouTube. (Reading is hard.) We have failed these people and they are dying because they think the FDA’s full approval of the Pfizer vaccine is “fake news.”

Or maybe they’re just idiots.

These people don’t trust the “the science.” That is until they get sick and show up at the hospital asking those same medical scientists to save their assess. Heaven help you if you have a stroke or a heart attack right now. The hospital is chocked full of covidiots, who can’t say they were wrong because they have ventilators shoved down their necks. There is always prayer, I guess. Good luck with that heart attack! I’m praying for you.

I want to be compassionate, but I’m just angry. I’ve seen these Mensa Society members at town halls and school board meetings screaming about FREEDOM! They want to be free to unmask their kids in school and go to Dairy Queen for the Flamethrower Combo with their face uncovered. “I’m not anti-vaccine. I’m pro-freedom,” they robotically say. They’re dooming their children to the ICU and the rest of us to an endless pandemic. I’m free to walk down the middle of I-5. That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Freedumb!

Of course, there are endless stories of these folks ending up in the hospital, wishing they would have gotten the vaccine. A whole lot of them die. Should we laugh? Tweet, “I told you so!” Make a comment about Darwin and the thinning of the herd?

There’s an old adage in comedy that says, tragedy + time = comedy. It’s probably too soon to laugh at the anti-vaccine people who have died. That includes the pathetic conservative radio host Phil Valentine who regularly spread lies about the coronavirus and the vaccines on his syndicated show. He died last week of COVID. They say God has a sense of humor and I’ll just leave it at that.

I wrestle with this issue because my mother is one of these covidiots. I generally think of her as an intelligent person, but, now in her late 70s, she’s become influenced by whatever crap she reads on the internet. Her mother, once a psychologist, fell under the spell of televangelist and prostitute funder Jimmy Swaggart in her later years and gave the family inheritance to the Jesus Man on TV. Similarly, watching my mother’s magical thinking being exploited by internet based mis-information is just heartbreaking. “Well, I heard…” You know what I heard Mom? People like you are dying right and left.

While I was in the basement, making it through my mild case of COVID earlier this month (I had the Johnson &. Johnson vaccine), she was a comforting voice, calling from Georgia. She had refused to get vaccinated and I tried to explain to her that the reason I was sick was because the unvaccinated have created a petri dish that has allowed the much more deadly Delta variant to spread. I begged her to get vaccinated. Being 78 in Georgia and living with her (also unvaccinated) grandson puts her at high risk. Finally, out of frustration I told her not to call me until she was vaccinated. I haven’t heard from her since. She chose the lies over her son.

It’s like America is taking a national IQ test right now. I used to joke there were two types of people in the world, those that love cilantro and idiots. Just replace “love cilantro” with “got the vaccine.” I’m cool with you willing to die for your “freedom,” but I’m not cool with you putting the rest of us through hell to prove your stupid point; that you’re stupid. And your stupidity is upending my freedom to dive into a mosh pit or know my daughter is safe in her classroom from your disease (excuse me, I mean “hoax”).

Like I said, I’m wrestling with this. I’m 90% fed up with these idiots and want to deny them entry into the hospital when they get sick and realize they need some of that science. But 10% of me still is looking for ways to reach these folks. And that includes my mother.

NOTE: Within 24-hours this post had already attracted the righteous wrath of the QAnon bozos. Lordy.

COVID, Climate Change, and Misinformation: How Shock Doctrine Kills American Democracy

August 9, 2021

I just survived being knocked down by the Delta variant of COVID, but I’m starting to think this country might not. My vaccine saved me and meant I spent 10 days in the basement with Netflix instead of in the ICU with a ventilator down my throat. I’m leery of long term effects but I know that unvaccinated idiots who get this will go through a hell that made my rough road look like a stroll through Candyland. A recent NPR poll found that 1 in 4 Americans refuse to get vaccinated (including my mother). This is the idiocracy that could spell the end of America.

We’re in a moment of national reckoning that might have less to do with George Floyd (that’s another reckoning) and be more about what happens when a nation spends 40 years defunding education.

The Big Three Waves of Shock

The news of how this Delta variant is burning through the national defenses is more than alarming. The vaccinated are getting sick (but living). The unvaccinated are dying in numbers we haven’t seen since the peak of the pandemic. And, most frighteningly, the number of pediatric COVID cases is exploding. Kids are getting sick and dying because their “freedom loving” parents are not getting vaccinated. Hospital beds are full of covidiots so if you need an ER bed because you crashed your Ram 2500 truck or rolled under your riding lawnmower, you’re just out of luck Bubba Jo. Pray.

The idiocy of these people whose refuse to get vaccinated based on “Well, I heard…” will cause this pandemic to drag on for years. These are people who, on the surface, might seem relatively intelligent. We were sitting poolside at the Tropicana in Las Vegas last spring when a third grade teacher told us, “Well, I read that the vaccine will kill you in six months.” People with supposed medical degrees, like this quack Dr. Joseph Mercola, are profiting from peoples fears of the virus. Leading activists who I used to trust, like Naomi Wolf and Robert Kennedy, Jr., are spreading anti-vax lunacy. My own mother has repeated some of the worst anti-science “facts” to justify her refusal to get vaccine. She’s in high risk Georgia and I really hope I don’t have to write “Killed by her own stupidity” on her gravestone.

These nutjobs claim they are defending their freedom. Just because I have the freedom to walk down the middle of the interstate doesn’t mean I should. They’re not defending any freedom. They are endangering all of us. If we could only send these rocket scientists on a one way trip to Florida.

Much of this vaccine hesitancy comes from a legitimate concern. Science is complex and a whole bunch of the science that was true in April is not true in August because of the information coming in about Delta and other variants. It’s understandable that some folks might retreat from the complexity into the comfort of simple blankets of misinformation. Did you know you can prevent coronavirus infection with Vitamin D? And a $100 donation to the Trump 2024 campaign? I mean even I feel a little weird telling people to “trust the government on this one.” But I spent a lot of time at CDC in my many years at Emory and I know those people are driven by the cold hard facts of science, not momentary political trends.

The second piece of this is the impact of the climate crisis. The earth is on fire and flooding at the same time. The Great Salt Lake is evaporating and Greek islands are up in flames. This is the rapid acceleration Dennis Quaid warned us about in 2004 in the film The Day After Tomorrow. Why didn’t we listen to Dennis Quaid?! Not only will this environmental spiral increase the number of SARS pandemics in the future (COVID-22 will cause incessant farting and anal bleeding), but disrupt the supply of food and water, sending populations on the move. You think the southern border is a mess now, wait until caravans of starving families are motivated by the far off glow of the golden arches across the Rio Grande.

The third piece that ties all this together is just the unstoppable explosion of misinformation, spread across the internet. Facebook and Twitter can play endless Whack-A-Mole trying to knock down false information about the election, COVID vaccines, and the “proof” that Earth is hollow, but the desire for convenient “truths” knows no limits. The internet was supposed to make us smarter as we all joined the information superhighway. Instead it has created a planetary dumbing down as people throw the values of journalism and science out the window in favor of a meme that “proves” their point. Have you spent any time on Gab, the MAGA alternative to Facebook? They have “evidence” that Dr. Anthony Fauci is part of a global Zionist conspiracy to kill off white people! It’s true and you’re a sheep if you don’t believe it! Sheeple baaaaad!

Shock Doctrine: Authoritarian Edition

Naomi Klein’s groundbreaking 2007 book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, explained how nations, like Pinochet’s Chile or the United States after 9/11, use the chaos of national crises to consolidate corporate power and pass laws that favor big business and undermine democratic institutions. Anyone who lived through the Iraq War and didn’t have stock in Halliburton is still smarting from that stab through America’s heart.

You know what I trust even less than the military industrial complex? Fascism. The world has seen a rapid rise in authoritarian movements. From Putin’s Russia to Duterte’s Philippines, democracy is out of favor. Neo-Nazis are back in Germany and Fox New’s resident white supremacist, Tucker Carlson, is in Budapest celebrating Hungry’s slide from democracy into oligarchy. Countless pages have been written about the cult of personality that surrounds Donald Trump and its hatred of democracy. It was evident in his coup attempt last winter. It’s evident among the QAnon zealots who believe he will be reinstated into power this month. And it’s evident in the people who want him back even though his one and only policy position is the expansion of his own power.

There is enough chaos between spiking COVID rates, the upheaval from the climate crisis, and the tsunami of misinformation spreading through the world to completely destabilize American democracy. Add to that the Republican overdrive efforts at voter suppression and gerrymandering, and the events of January 6th could be just a typical Wednesday in America. Here come the COVID-compromised farmers, their soy bean farms ablaze, enraged because they read on the internet that their tax dollars are going to teaching Critical Race Theory to transgender Guatemalan immigrants instead of dropping sports drinks on their burning fields. (“It’s got electrolytes!”)

Remember The Enlightenment

I start every one of my sociology classes with a discussion of the The Enlightenment, that 18th century intellectual movement that dragged our idiot asses out of the Dark Ages and into the Age of Reason. If gave us everything from modern science (without Louis Pasteur we wouldn’t have Fro Yo!) and the vast experiment that is the United States of America. The values of rationality and empiricism put us on a path of a more thoughtful and logical world that stopped burning witches at the stake and sent robots to Mars. As we watch Afghanistan tumble back into the Stone Age, don’t think the growing chorus of prophet preachers, flat earth dads, anti-vax moms, and freedom-screaming “patriots” won’t achieve the same thing here. The science obsessed Chinese are watching our decent into mass stupidity, ready to pick up the pieces. Is our future a dumb and dumber slide into new Dark Ages filled with screeching street preachers and angry MAGA mobs watching colleges and hospitals burn down? Or, as Patti Smith once sang, will we “wrestle the world from fools?”

This is it. Make America smart again. Or else.

The Delta Variant Got Me: Hubris Amid a Pandemic

August 1, 2021

OK, I’m gonna be brief, because I feel like absolute crap. I have COVID-19. I tested positive yesterday after three or four days of coughing that turned into headaches and a fever. I thought it was a summer cold. My wise wife took one look at me and said, “You’ve got Corona.” So let me lay it out in bullet points so I can go back to sleep.

  • I received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine which, some sources have reported, is not as effective against the Delta Variant.
  • When the vaccines rolled out at the beginning of the year, the science said the vaccinated are near 100% protected and also unlikely to spread the virus. That was BEFORE the Delta variant arrived.
  • Science changes as incoming data changes.
  • The end of the state mask mandate had many of us vaccinated people thinking we were back to life as normal. I pretty much stopped wearing my mask and was back at the bar and other indoor places with people who may not have been vaccinated.
  • There’s a whole bunch of people at Lollapalooza in Chicago right now who are about to get a very sobering telegram from reality.
  • As much as I want to blame this on the people who are not getting vaccinated, it’s my own damn fault, pretending that I was fully protected while I heard the daily horror stories on NPR.
  • I’m pretty sure I’m not going to end up in the ICU, but this version of COVID has still knocked me on my ass.
  • I worry that I may have infected several people before I know that I had it. I’m most worried about my 6-year-old daughter.

This thing is far from over. We have to get vaccination rates up. Get your mask back out. Wash your hands to “Happy Birthday.” Stay home. The 1918 flu pandemic didn’t end in 1919. It took a couple years. But then we had the Roaring Twenties. So hunker down. Our roaring twenties is coming.