Friday, October 31, 2014

Failed Gangsta Rapper in the Desert

For some odd reason, a coworker and I got into a discussion about The Manson Family the other day.  How Manson, or any dimestore maniac, got so many people not just to believe in him, but to do utterly crazy, violent nonsense for him.  We’re sane people.  Know how to present ourselves in public.  Can be persuasive when the need arises.  But to get a few dozen runaway teenage girls to be our sex slaves and kill people for some totally insane cause?

I guess drugs, limited intelligence and under-developed emotional maturity in the participants really go a long way towards megalomania.  I pictured myself on one of the Manson girls parole boards:

Manson Girl (now Grey-Haired Woman): And as my syllabus states, I found Our Lord Jesus Christ in the summer of 1978.

Bill: Thank God you didn’t find him in the summer of 1969.  Otherwise you might have stabbed him 47 times and carved Beatles lyrics into his chest.

I ask myself what the Manson Family means now, considering how the world is, with maniacs chopping off people’s heads in the desert.  And not just that, but having the presence of mind to film it and use it as a berserk recruitment tape for other like-minded maniacs.  (That’s what I think is really going on with terrorism.  The horrible acts in and of themselves are meant to scare and intimidate the people these maniacs consider enemies, but the real deal is always a visual record of their work that they can use as an integral facet of their marketing pitch to other doomed assholes.  They know their numbers are small.  They need more people to join their cause, more than they need to kill the enemy.)

What’s really strange to me is not the use of old-world torture methods but mixing them with “cutting edge” technology – filming the act, possibly with a smartphone, and then uploading to Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, etc.  I’d say “these guys are no dummies” … but they’re idiots.  We know this.  Their version of a good time is filming a beheading in the desert … while ours might be filming an ice-bucket challenge and hoping it goes viral via our group of Facebook friends.

The age of wonder?  It feels more like the age of wandering.  Aimlessly.  Covert marketing, envy and materialism masquerading as progress.

The world now feels like a surly mix of things that will always be with us – like death in any form – and these trendy play things we’re supposed to flock to like sheep.  As you could guess, I’m more inclined to things that will always be with us, but you’re reading this now on one of those trendy play things – the internet – that surely heralded the beginning of this new and confused age.  I’m typing this now on a bus, an act that was unthinkable 25 or 30 years ago (with all 10 fingers … call me a luddite).  If I wanted, I could upload the story and put it on the web, although this bus’ wifi system is pretty choppy and I might be denied.  But my words must get out and reach the waiting masses!  You’re waiting for this, right?

That’s what I’ve realized as I’ve grown older.  Nobody’s waiting.  Maybe the Grim Reaper, but he waits patiently for everyone.  Nobody waits for anything anymore.  Earlier this month, I was in the supermarket, back in rural PA, waiting in line.  A guy in his 20’s in front of me.  Big.  Not just fat, a guy who clearly lifted weights, but was chunky on top of that.  At the counter, an elderly man, who appeared to be chatting about nothing in particular with the cashier.  It was mildly annoying.  There was a line, and this guy was killing time, maybe lonely, needed someone to talk to, seemed oblivious that the cashier’s function was not to be his sounding board about whatever was on his mind.

While I was mildly annoyed, the guy in front of me was fuming.  Started to shrug and sigh, turning around to make eye contact with me as if to say, “why do I always get stuck behind assholes like this” … I knew the feeling, but I could also see the big picture.  Lonely old man, needs someone to talk to, this is it for today, let him run it out, will tag on two minutes to my wait in line, this, too, shall pass.  There were no other cashiers, so we were stuck.

In New York, the younger guy would have been flipping out, making his impatience verbal, as that’s how the manners meter rolls here.  But in rural PA, he just stood there seething, in ways that struck me as vaguely threatening, given his size and demeanor.  He wasn’t smart enough to grasp that his size combined with a lack of patience puts other people on edge, which will not serve him well when he runs into like-minded individuals with better self-defense skills.

Nothing happened.  As it normally does.  His options were clear.  Pick up the old guy and drag him out to the parking lot to possibly kick his ass.  And get arrested.  He took the easier choice, to feel bad for a few minutes, as if the world had it in for him, as it always does.  So if that was the case, it made more sense to look at his own big picture: down that Muscle Milk and eat three meals of meat each day, keep pumping that iron, getting bigger, getting bloated.  Because the world has it in for him.  And no douchebags in a desert are ever going to lop his head off on Twitter, no sir.  The world is your oyster when you can bench 250.

(Sidenote: isn’t it amazing that you can say so much on Twitter visually – cut someone’s head off – and never get anywhere near to communicating what that means in 140 characters?  You’re not prohibited from showing things that would take thousands of words to fully express, but 140 characters are too heavy to get across in one tweet.  They banned that video from Twitter, despite the fact that it perfectly, and brutally, underlined their philosophy.  Which is lightning fast communication of concepts.  Lopping off an infidel’s head in the desert … do you get the picture?  Not even sure why they allowed the failed gangsta rapper to make his asinine, comic-book villain speech … totally unnecessary, like when a “bad guy” professional wrestler grabs a microphone to pontificate in the ring.  Madonna could have told him that in 1985 with her experience on MTV … people don’t really listen to the words, especially with videos.)

You better believe, if we had all this social media available to us in 1969, the Manson Family would have filmed both trips they made, to Sharon Tate’s rented house and the LaBianca residence, to film the whole thing.  Living on an abandoned movie ranch in the desert?  (Funny how deserts seem to attract these folks!)  Eating out of garbage bins.  I assure you, at least one of those dislocated upper-middle-class runaway chicks would have had a smartphone, probably more.  And they’d have filmed the whole shebang.  Not just the murders, but the orgies, the insane speeches where Charlie made the connection between The White Album, messages from God, and their role in the upcoming race war that The Bible predicted.  Just trying to imagine now what The Manson Family's Facebook page might have looked like, aside from the obvious Beatles and Biblical reference links.  Would you "friend" them?

Do you ever get the feeling that life is passing you by?  I can guarantee you, Charlie Manson didn’t feel that way for a good part of the late 60’s.  I often look at people like him, or David Koresh, and wonder how in the hell they got people to follow them.  Koresh seemed like an REO Speedwagon roadie, the kind of guy who would try to “rock” while wearing wire-frame glasses and sporting a shag mullet.  What I’m trying to say: he was a dick.  Ditto, Manson.  A petty criminal from the middle of nowhere who spent most of his formative and adult life incarcerated.  Manson was roughly the same age as Mom, which shocked the hell out of me at the time.  This crazed maniac with hair down to his shoulders and swastikas carved in his forehead … could have been one of those dorky guys with a crew cut in Mom’s Class of ’50 high-school yearbook?

George Carlin, too.  While guys like this were out there doing their thing in ways not indicative of their generation, Mom was quietly raising a bunch of kids in rural Pennsylvania, supporting values passed on to her as a child raised in the shadow of The Depression and World War II, and all those other working-class Irish things we all had in The Coal Region.  The funny thing was, particularly with Carlin, that I’d later read interviews with him and gather that he fully understood my Mom’s world, that era in the middle of the 20th Century.  Maybe he rebelled against it, but he also seemed to have a begrudging respect for the hard sense the world made at that time.  Or he could have just been nostalgic for that rough-and-tumble Irish Catholic upbringing he had in NYC.

Where do you draw the line between living a relatively normal life and going over the edge?  It’s hardly a line: it’s a radically different lifestyle choice.  Manson simply took his hardened upbringing, particularly the mannerisms he learned pimping women when he moved out to the West Coast and had to find some dubious way to make money, and used them in a new environment.  One where he sensed there were a lot of stoned, lost, impressionable kids congregating in California.  People forget that the Baby Boomers wanted to be lead; their generation was one that flocked towards cultural icons to guide them.  One good thing I’ll say about kids now: they seem much less impressionable in that sense.  Then again, I don’t see too many worthwhile leaders to guide them anywhere either.  Other than blank materialism, devices and the burning desire to use them all day, I’m not quite sure what guides them anymore.

It might be a strange way to look at it, but the failed gangsta rapper in the desert … isn’t he just being nostalgic?  And I mean real, old-world, let’s roll the clock back centuries kind of nostalgia.  Burning witches, or throwing them in a lake to see if they float.  That kind of “world was better before we were born” nostalgia that really drives home the concept.  There’s a safe kind of nostalgia where you can long for how the world was when you were a child.  I understand that and indulge in it quite a bit.  (And it’s harmless, too, if you ask me, despite what some jack asses may tell you about indulging at all.  It’s a good idea to understand your past, because most of it is going to guide your future.)

The failed gangsta rapper in the desert looks at the world the way it is and thinks, “This is a load of shit.”  How many times have I had the same thought?  Countless.  You, too?  We all have.  But then I catch myself and think, “The world isn’t really that bad.”  It might be bad enough that I’d buy a bunch of Civil War duds online and pretend I’m fighting for the Union in some weekend re-enactment of Gettysburg.  But to actually kill someone in that re-enactment?  Come on, now.  War is over.  The South lost.  And they aint gonna' do it agin, no matter what Charlie Daniels says.

I’m starting to believe anyone who believes in a religion, or any cult-like belief, large or small, simply imagines a better world that used to exist, or the promise of a better world that was put forth in an age-old book of wisdom.  They want to be guided.  “We” want to be guided?  “I” want to be guided?  At this point in my life, I’m not so sure.  The two people who guided me when it mattered are gone.  As are some of the people who helped me along the way through school and early adulthood.  If not physically gone, then I just don’t know where they are now.  And I'm too old to follow anybody.  I must admit, it’s nice to recall those days and see there were people in the world who didn’t owe me a damn thing, yet made an effort to push me in good directions.  But the whole point of that is to find your own way.

Dylan’s Basement Tapes are coming out on Tuesday, something that fans have waited decades for.  Well, most fans didn’t – they bought the stuff on bootleg over the past few decades, but to get them officially and polished is a nice deal.  In his time, Dylan was like Moses, leading his tribe across the desert … to the promised land?  No promises kept in the desert.  Just a bunch of strange people with bad shit running through their heads.  Can’t help but feel sometimes that the world has turned into one big desert and all that entails mentally.