August 18, 2003
"On reflection, the work we did on this given day, maybe that was the product that came out of that phase some time in the past when we were ostensibly incredibly idle."
Winston Churchill and Aldous Huxley got very drunk one night in an uptown bar in Valhalla. As the evening sloshed along, Aldous proffered and Winston accepted a hit of acid; then, at closing time, they staggered into a time-portal, thinking they were hailing a London cab.
They awoke upon a manicured lawn not too far from here. There, sprawled upon the ground, they stared at the perfect rows upon perfect rows of perfect hybrid grasses: All standing straight, uniform, rigid, blade to blade, like the Nazi ranks at Munich.
Churchill roused himself, stood up, lit a cigar, drew a slug of breakfast brandy from his flask, and surveyed the scene: Sterile subdivisions, bland office parks, endless arrays of strip malls were stretched as far as he could see -- and Winston proclaimed to Aldous: "What passionless age is this? In what Era of Epic Dullness have I arrived? What bloodless people are these? It seems a time of the flourishing of the Remorselessly Boring, This Age of Reckless Tedium, This Triumph of the Bland -- Here in this Empire of the Dull."
Huxley replied, "You, Winston carried the darkness of your nation during the war against totalitarianism. What would you have us do now to resist this Blitzkrieg of Bullshit and Unrelenting Vapidity: Of the Wars of Empires packaged as Non-Stop Entertainment, of Marketing Schlock elevated to Cultural Spectacle, of this Twenty-Four Hour a Day Nuremberg Rally of Commercialization, of Goose-Stepping Nikes, of Generically-Pure Master Race Hybrid Lawns -- of Consumerism Uber Alles?"
Winston took a long, slow swig from his flask and sighed, "Beats me. Do you have any more of that acid?"
Shortly thereafter, I saw the spirits of Winston Churchill and Aldous Huxley loitering in the parking lot of what Aldous was calling the "Home Despot." They were laughing uproariously as they scrutinized rolls of duct tape and plastic sheeting, causing Winston to chortle, "If we only had access to these items in my time we would not have needed blood, sweat, and toil to survive the Nazis' Blitzkrieg -- just a stiff upper lip and an afternoon of shopping."
In these confused and troubled times, these were just the fellows with whom I wished speak: So I called out for their strength and wisdom -- as Winston had once called out for the Spirit of Britain during the most desperate hours of the Second World War and as Aldous had called out a warning against acquiescence to a soulless, sterile future.
They told me that they would see what they could do, after they came down from the acid a bit.
Later, after they were no longer peaking, they borrowed my cell phone and put in a request to the Gods of History and Zeitgeist -- but the Gods got the message garbled and instead of the Spirit of Britain -- we were sent Britney Spears. This development caused Winston and Aldous to fall into terrible sinking spells, for they took one look at Britney Spears, with her empty, blond, pop assertiveness and thought the Nazis must have surely won the war.
So Winston, Aldous, and I took to the hills searching for the soul of resistance and we listened to the silence of these dark hours. And then:
Heard across the battered and bartered landscape, from within cramped interiors of crumbling shotgun shacks, out of dank back-alley rooms, and heard amid the muttering and wheezing of human heaps crumpled upon drab mattresses on cold public shelter floors.... A song -- softly sung -- barely audible -- rose forth.
From the ravished and forsaken earth, from exhausted mines, from trampled fields, and from the poisoned waters.... the song gained voice.
From hidden places deep within our commodified and subdivided psyches, a troubadour tramp plucked out the tune on his battered guitar, upon which the message had been scratched, "This machine kills fascists." The gods had finally located Woody Guthrie who had hopped a glory-bound freight train rumbling out into the far-flung reaches of Paradise and, upon receiving this news, had begun to form to a band of resistance singers in the remote, hill country of Eternity.
"It is not 'The White Cliffs of Dover,' but it is catchy," said Winston, waving his cigar like a conductor's baton.
But... zoning laws of the Empire of the Bland were violated by this singing; the lease covenants of hardened hearts had been broken.... Song-sniffing dogs were released; air raid sirens wailed-out Britney Spears songs, as death squads dispatched by Clear Channel scoured the countryside in order to restore unquestioning patriotism, obedience and good taste.
John Ashcroft declared the human body utterly inappropriate to be seen in public with.... So I purchased my very own: Regulation, self-sterilizing Isolation Bubble Unit at Home Despot; it is the proper and approved shade of tan khaki -- and I'm careful to set the mood regulator only between nondescript and nonexistent -- But -- sometimes -- when I'm feeling truly adventurous -- I set the controls all the way up to full-tilt bland!
Yet they can't locate the singers of resistance in the hills -- and the music played on....
And the musical notes swarmed as thick and annoying as gnats in high summer -- causing Clear Channel's Thugs of Good Taste and Nationalistic Propriety to set up Musical Note Bug-Zappers -- so that the night air sizzled with the sound of banned and obliterated music.
But they could not kill every single note.
So, by the order of The Office of Homeland Security, all musical instruments were seized and burned.... But music gathered inside the fires and its songs crackled from the flames -- and the music played on -- even gaining a new scorching Salsa-tinged tempo.
The orders were given to work, and work, and work -- and buy and buy and buy -- and ignore the music.... And work we did: Whips cracked, keyboards clacked, writers hacked -- and we labored on and on.... And we hated and resented the music -- because it only served to remind us of the life we were missing.... And we tried to ignore it -- and so we worked some more -- and shopped some more -- and worked some more -- and bought some more. More. More. More!
So we "somatized" (as Aldous took to calling it) ourselves with prescriptions of anti-depressants and huge cups of corporate coffee and we complied: But deep within our benumbed and distracted selves -- troubles were brewing that were stronger than any dose of double mochachino latte: Our deferred and forgotten dreams -- at long last -- had grown fed up -- and they were abandoning us altogether.
But those abandoned dreams began to band together with millions upon millions of the forgotten dreams of others in the undisclosed location of our own forsaken hearts and they began to sing softy through their tears --
Causing the Bush Cartel to command us to work more and harder and spend and then spend more....
And we again complied....
And yet more dreams were abandoned....
And this caused yet more bands to be formed.... And the music grew ever stronger, deeper, and more resonate....
Until it began to slowly seep through our defenses, eroding the stone walls of our imprisoned hearts. It expanded, warming our chests and throats, until it perched right on the tips of our tongues and then leapt forward... overwhelming all resistance.... marching into the freed Paris of our imaginings....
And there occurred a harrowing outbreak of public humming....
Then mild foot-tapping....
Then jigging and juking -- and out and out crooning -- and unrestrained serenading in homes and offices and public spaces.
And, like all bullies, the totalitarian bastards, who controlled and fronted the Empire of the Bland, crumpled and fled leaving only the static and dead air of Clear Channel in their wake.
Then the exhausted singers came down from the hills triumphant.
And though the spirit of Woody, Winston and Aldous, the Gods decreed that the heart of the world and the soul of humankind shall always have a far greater portion of music than work.
So the next time you have an annoying tune stuck in your head that you can't seem to get rid of: You now know how this condition came to be and what to blame it on -- and why this just may be a decent trade off.
Even if the song is a Britney Spears number -- this is the price we must pay for freedom.
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America the 'beautiful' on Swans
Phil Rockstroh, a self-confessed gasbag monologist, is a poet and a musician who lives in New York City (Manhattan). Rockstroh is co-author, with Chris Chandler, of Protection From All This Safety, (Portals Press, 1997, ISBN: 0916620301). He's had short fiction published in Silver Web Literary Magazine, Thin Ice, Brutarian, and poems included in a few anthologies, such as "From a Bend in the River."
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