Where I Stand

December 20, 2016

I’d originally intended to write this piece after Clinton won the election to explain why I couldn’t vote for her. I’m writing it anyway. It’s meant to explain where I stand culturally/politically.

I was born into a mainstream “moderate to conservative” (I put the words in quotes because I think they’re deceptive) Democratic Party household. Eugene McCarthy’s near upset of Lyndon Johnson in the New Hampshire primary inspired me to leave the fold. I became what would be described today as an “ultra liberal.” Then, with the election of Richard Nixon, I dropped out psychologically and philosophically, switching my allegiance to the counterculture. The change coincided with my deepening disillusionment with Western civilization and ideas.

In its early days, the counterculture was divided into two fundamental factions: the spiritual hippies and the New Left politicos. The essential difference was that the hippies believed you had to change yourself before you could change the world, while the leftists believed you had to change the world before you could change yourself. I sided with the hippies. By the time I was 20 I completely dismissed mainstream American culture. I saw it as dying. At the same time, the hippie image and philosophy were being diluted and destroyed by the Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll crowd, who were not hippies, but looked like them. I ended up dropping out of the counterculture—dropping out of the drop-outs—and landing on the streets of North Beach, where I continued my search for what is “really real.” It wasn’t exactly a deliberate move, but neither was it an accident. I didn’t find all my answers there, but I did find many. And I came to a solid understanding that America really was in a death spiral, something that’s quite apparent now.

I remained a complete outsider—no home, no job, no ID—until the wild parrots came into my life. By getting involved with two creative projects, the book and the film, and having to present them to the public, I got pulled back into the System. (Both projects happened naturally. They were not calculated.) But I remained essentially a counterculturist disillusioned with the counterculture—not to mention the System. My return coincided with 9/11, so in 2008, I was happy to be seduced by Obama. But he turned out to be more of the same—a so-called centrist Democrat. I vowed then that I would never get fooled again. The only individual I could imagine ever supporting was Bernie Sanders. He was from the edge of the counterculture, its political side, so he felt close enough to where I stood. But I never thought he’d run, and when he announced, I pretty much ignored him. He started saying things that for so long had needed to be said, and I was amazed by how many responded to him. I was riveted throughout his campaign. But the establishment Democrats had no intention of allowing him to succeed.

Since the advent of computers the Empire has become corporate and global in nature. (That’s obvious, yes.) I am adamantly opposed to the Empire, which is indifferent to everything save money and power. Its massiveness has made it the biggest threat to world peace, a healthy environment, and a sane life. Hillary Clinton, like her husband, is a supporter of the Empire. She made it clear that she would use military power to keep the Empire in place and thriving. Trump, who is a genuine sociopath (that needs to be understood), is more like a domestic terrorist. He will fail because of his ego. The Global Empire demands an ability to work with others, something he is incapable of doing because of his “disease.” He’s going to cause a great deal of harm to his fellow Americans, but it’s difficult for me to think of Trump as objectively worse simply because he is more of a threat to me personally. If I did, it would make me indifferent to the suffering of those who Clinton would have squashed in her effort to maintain the Empire, which, like America, is also in its death throes. Both Clinton and Trump are devotees of Mammon. They simply had different constituencies supporting them in their quests for power. Mammon has no principles.

My allegiance remains to the counterculture, which needs to revive itself and develop greater maturity. There is no hope for the established institutions of the modern world, which are completely off-base philosophically. I don’t care about economics, politics, or science, all of which now serve as tools for ambitious egotists. The only thing I’ve ever cared about is love. It’s the only thing that has never fallen away from me.

Advertisements

Progress Report #105

December 7, 2016

The pace of progress on Street Song has picked up substantially, due largely to preparatory work I completed a few years ago. I’ve finished Chapter 18 now and am starting work on Chapter 19, which looks to be another easy one. It starts to get complicated again in Chapter 20, but my years of spending months and months on a single chapter  are over. I don’t intend to start posting the news about every chapter I finish. It’s just that I’m feeling  relief over the progress I’m making and want to share it. As I may have said here once before, the only thing I’ve ever done that was more difficult than writing this book was living out the events that the book depicts.

Progress Report #104

November 28, 2016

This is a essentially an expansion of my last Progress Report.

I’m ten and a half years now into my memoir, Street Song. It’s been ten and a half years of constant work, so obviously it’s been a difficult project. Why take so many years out of one’s life to talk about the past? That’s something I’m still trying to come to grips with. It’s been some comfort to know that there are people eager to read the book. What I want to do here is to explain at some length what I’m trying to do and where I am in the process.

What am I trying to do? The book began with an image I had of myself sitting on the porch of an SRO hotel in North Beach watching people pass by me. I’d had that image for several years before I started work. When I finally started writing, the book went elsewhere, which has always struck me as peculiar. But books write themselves. If you struggle to take it in a direction that your conscious mind prefers, all you encounter is endless conflict. I’d been trying to keep the finished manuscript at around 350 pages, but I see now that it’s going to be longer. I understand why. I was born into a very conventional family in middle America, but I’ve ended up—philosophically, spiritually, intellectually, psychologically, whatever word you want to use—far, far from there. The book traces the nuances of that development. Nothing I say about anything will be understandable or believable unless I show the twists and turns. It’s not that I’ve arrived at some quirky individual mindset that I think might make entertaining reading. I write because, while traveling a highly unusual path, I discovered some fundamental realities that are universally true and have been either forgotten or consciously dismissed by the modern world. They are not my ideas. I believe that if we don’t get back to them we are doomed.

Where am I in the process? I had to do a lot of research before I could even begin writing. I’ve seldom kept any kind of journal, so I had to piece together my past. It was laborious. The research continues to this day—although there is much less to do. When I finally started on the manuscript, I wrote a quick, moderately long first draft. The second draft was nearly 1,000 pages, which I knew was much more than I would ever use. My approach was inspired by the Chinese sage Lao-tse: “If we wish to compress something, we must first let it fully expand.” So now I’m on the third and final draft. I have an outline that calls for 48 chapters—although that could get cut down as I move through the manuscript. I’ve completed the first 14 chapters, which I call Section One and regard as the foundation for the rest of the book. It took a long time to find the right balance and compression to build that foundation. I’ve finished Chapter 15, the beginning of “the rest of the book,” and, as I hoped, the writing has sped up considerably. I’m able to bring my Draft Two material straight across and focus on editing it down to a reasonable length. That wasn’t possible with the first fourteen chapters. I’m optimistic that I can go on a roll now. I need to get this book off my plate.

Progress Report #103 (Where is He Now?)

September 7, 2016

I’ve been making good progress. I just finished what I call Section 1, consisting of chapters 1 through 14. That’s between a quarter and a third of the last draft. But I have too much book in this first section. What I intend to do next is read through it and spend some time cutting, compressing, and removing any repetitions that have worked themselves in. Then I move on to chapter 15. The pace is picking up because I’ve reached a point, working from the previous draft, where I’d finally evolved a method that allows me to do more editing now, instead of rewriting. A subtle difference, but an important one. I still have another year to go, but I can see the light.

Sorry to put this up here with so little notice, but I’m reading from Street Song tomorrow, September 8, at the Presidio Officers Club starting at 6 PM. The event is free, but you have to reserve a seat. You can find all the information you need right here.

Lane Tietgen Revisited

July 28, 2016

LaneMy goal as a youth to make it as a singer-songwriter is a major thread in my work-in-progress, Street Song. You can’t really describe music with words, and, as I’ve worked on the book, it has occurred to me that most readers will be curious to know what I sounded like. I haven’t played seriously in over 40 years, but have never stopped entirely. I’ve decided to make a small demo-type recording of six songs which I’ll make available one way or another to readers of the book. All the songs I’m recording are referred to in the text. Three of them are songs that I wrote. One of the most vital songs in Street Song is “Highway,” by the singer-songwriter Lane Tietgen. I first heard “Highway” in 1972 on an album called Crazed Hipsters by Finnigan and Wood. Lane was not a member of that band, but had been in a band called The Serfs with Finnigan and Wood’s lead singer, Mike Finnigan. You can hear the Crazed Hipsters version here.

In the 60s and 70s, songs fulfilled the same function as poetry had in other eras. Religion, too! Certain songs changed the way people looked at the world. “Highway” did that for me. Several years ago, seeking permission to quote the lyrics in my book, I spent some time tracking down Lane Tietgen. I finally found him in nearby Sonoma, and he kindly gave me permission. When I decided to make this recording I knew “Highway” had to be one of the songs I recorded. So I sent him another email asking if it was okay for me to record it. He said I could, but he wanted to know if I was certain that I was playing the correct chords. I’d never learned it back in the days I was performing because it sounded like the type of song you needed a band to play, and I was a solo artist. Although I’d started learning the song, I hadn’t put a great deal of work into it yet, and I was unsure about a few of the chords. So Lane suggested that I come up to his place so he could teach me the correct chords. I was quite taken aback—pleased as could be. Judy and I recently drove up to Eureka in Northern California, and along the way  we stopped for my “Highway” lesson. Thank you, Lane.

Not many people know his work, which is a pity. I have a two-part piece here on my blog called “The Magnificent Return of Lane Tietgen” which I suggest you all read. He continues to be one of the few practitioners of the singer-songwriter genre who, in my opinion, is still really doing it. The best of that genre was about the exploration of the human heart, not neurotic complaints or political posturing. Lane has stayed with his heart.

 

Progress Report #102

May 28, 2016
date

This event isn’t in the book, but took place during the period I’m currently writing about. My date and I before attending the Joffrey Ballet. 1971.

The pace has been picking up some as my working methods for my work in progress, Street Song, have become more clear. It’s been ten years now, so some clarity ought to be expected! I have completed 13 chapters (chapters 1-11 as well as two other chapters from later in the manuscript) out of 48 chapters projected. The first seven chapters took a long time to get straight, but the channel was dug in those first seven chapter, and the water is flowing in the desired direction. I just finished my second pass through Chapter 12 and will do one, maybe two more before heading on to Chapter 13. Overall, I’m on the third and final draft of the entire book. I project another year of work and then I should be finished. Somebody asked me if I would have started this project if I’d known how hard it would  be and how long it would take. I couldn’t answer. Probably yes, but I couldn’t swear to it.

The Problem of the Homeless

February 28, 2016

The City of San Francisco made the news recently by breaking up a homeless encampment on the streets, a long row of tents that Judy and I often drove past on our way to Rainbow Grocery, the store we use. The camp was the subject of a lot of controversy, especially after the CEO of some tech company wrote an open, complaining letter to the mayor, demanding that the mayor do something. The poor guy was sick of having to look at the homeless. It’s commonplace to say that San Francisco has a “serious homelessness problem,” but the entire country does, really. I read recently that my hometown of Vancouver, Washington has homeless camps. The homeless are more noticeable in a place like San Francisco, that’s all. I myself was without a home for 15 years, living on the street in San Francisco from 1973 to 1988. I wasn’t what most people picture when they hear that word, “homeless,” but I was out among the homeless much of that time, and I have a decent idea of what’s going on. When I hear people talk about the problem, I realize that no one even comes close to understanding it, that it’s only going to grow.

For a long time I’ve been trying to figure out a simple way of describing what I see, but only recently did I find the words I was looking for: We live in a system that creates homelessness as one of its inevitable byproducts. This society has a near-religious belief in competition, and wherever you have competition, you have, inevitably, winners and losers. You can’t have one without the other. It’s like water boiling at 212 degrees Fahrenheit: It’s the only possibility. The homeless are the ones who have lost the game. As the competition heats up—as it has been ever since Reagan—the winners keep grabbing more and more, so we have more and more losers of the game. People like the CEO of that tech company are either ignorant or arrogant. Or both. Whether he sees it or not, he‘s a huge part of the problem.

When I was on the street I was subjected to all kinds of absurd situations and arrogant treatment. One example is when people become furious with homeless people for defecating on the street. This society gives them no place else to go. There are few public toilets, at least ones that don’t cost money , and restaurants, cafes, and so on don’t want the homeless in their businesses. I never ended up in a situation where I had to do “my business” in public, but I came close a few times. When you are in an absurd situation like that and you’re surrounded by people who can’t understand the most obvious and simple thing, you tend to lose your respect for them. You end up doing whatever you feel like doing.

If we genuinely want to end the problem, we have to abandon the idea that it’s okay to accumulate as much wealth as possible. It’s not okay to be a billionaire. And if we can’t abandon the idea, then we have to prepare ourselves for the inevitable epidemic of poverty. It’s that cut and dried.

Idealism and the Young

February 22, 2016

My teenage years were the 1960s, a tremendously idealistic time. It was quite clear then that war was wrong, racism was wrong, chasing money was wrong, not loving was wrong. But I was always having to listen to older people assure me that someday I’d get real and grow up. I never knew how to respond to that. I didn’t have enough life experience to understand where they were coming from. Now we’re in a time where you have a candidate for president, Bernie Sanders, arousing the idealism of the young, and the young are responding. And you have another set of people denigrating their idealism and telling them to grow up. And this time the denigrators are people my age. I understand who they are, what they are saying, and why they’re saying it. They are not the people of my generation who grew up; they’re the ones who got old.

We live in a particularly materialistic era of a particularly materialistic civilization. A lot of us tend to see ideals as having no real foundation, that they’re just “brain activity” in a fundamentally meaningless universe. But the essence of existence is not material. What it is is beyond language, although we’ve come up with words for it — “spiritual” being one of them, one that has gotten tired from misuse. There is a set of universal ideals that grow out of that essence. Most of them are obvious, but not all. You don’t need to cultivate them for them to exist. They are inherent within us when we are born. In many of us, as we get older, as we compromise ourselves over and over again, those ideals grow dull and remote. Many of us eventually turn against them. We don’t believe in them anymore. And then we call it growing up. But real growing up is something else entirely: It’s understanding how difficult it is to bring our ideals into our practical lives and the patience we need to accomplish that. We can’t ever abandon those ideals. The farther we get from them, the older and grayer and more meaningless our everyday life feels. I’m not really interested in what a lot of folks call pragmatism. To me, it looks more like death.

Progress Report #101 and the State of the Blog Address

February 11, 2016

Hello? Hello? Anybody here?

I know I’ve been neglecting this blog. It’s been difficult getting to it, again, because of my book, Street Song. Anytime I have the energy to write, I always feel I should be putting it into the book. At the same time, I don’t want to abandon this blog. I started it up because there wasn’t anybody saying what I wanted to hear said, which is still true.

As for the book, I’m almost finished with chapter 10, and I have two chapters much later in the manuscript completed as well, for a total of 12 finished chapters. I have 48 chapters outlined, which makes me a quarter of the way through the book. (This is the last draft.) It’s almost 10 years now, but I can see the end. For reasons too tedious to explain, these first 10 chapters have been the most difficult to write. The pace will pick up with Chapter 11. I see one task that I have to attend to soon. Within the first seven chapters especially, I have about twice as much book as I want. I need to do some editing, compressing, cutting, which I don’t think will be too hard. There’s always a little cleanup to do after that kind of surgery, though. I can say beyond any doubt that I’ve learned a great deal writing Street Song. You might think that’s a no-brainer, but I’ve always tended to regard writing as an expression of what one already knows. But that has not been the case here. It’s been a real meditation that has changed me. I understand certain things now that I didn’t understand before.

As for this blog, like I said, I don’t want to abandon it. I have one idea on how I can stick with it. It can never supersede my work on the book, but there’s a lot happening in the world right now, and I’m eager to speak my mind. I’ve been on Facebook a bunch lately, but you can’t really go into any depth there. It’s fast and ephemeral — more cheerleading than anything else, as I have told a number of people. I’m sure I’ve lost a lot of readers here, but I aim to make a return. Not many people hold the views I do. Because we live in a democracy, there is a tendency to think that whatever the majority of the population believes is the correct view. I don’t see it that way. I think humanity has gone way off the track. There’s a lot I want to say about that.

The Lie of Supply and Demand

December 16, 2015

Every time I get involved in some kind of conversation or debate over economic justice, there’s always some guy who will jump in to invoke the “Law of Supply and Demand.” Invariably, he steps back then to see if any of us are dumb enough to continue. It’s a law, man, a settled issue, something that only an idiot would challenge. But supply and demand is not a law. A law is something that absolutely must happen. But no one has any obligation to follow this supposed law in any transaction they control. If I have the only loaf of bread and I’m surrounded by hungry people, I can give the bread away if I so choose. Supply and demand is a syndrome—a philosophical justification for greed. One of the assumptions behind supply and demand is that people naturally want to get as much as they can and will play every angle they can in order to get it. A further assumption is, that’s okay. The only law involved then is the Law of the Jungle. But it’s not okay. Greed is killing us. It’s been sanctioned for a long time and the ill-effects are mounting. Climate change is one of them. Another is the cost of housing. We have to change our approach to how we exist and survive. We don’t need so much stuff. We’re heading for the cliff, and the cliff isn’t that far away now. If we don’t stop soon, we’re going over it.