Thursday, February 17, 2011
REBEL WITHOUT A PAUSE
Over the last couple weeks I've been idly looking at war films made in the field during WW2 and Vietnam. The WW2 footage is the tv shows in the 50s, Victory At Sea (Navy) and The Big Picture (Army) and You Are There, narrated by Walter Cronkite. Victory At Sea was my favorite. Saturday tv viewing in the time of b&w tv. Every time I see an episode or 2 now, seldom watch more than 2 in a row, I remember the time in childhood, 11 and 12, how seeing the war my daddy went through made me afraid there would be a war for me. Looking at American history, going to war has been a rite of passage. Discipline. The Army was the key to a young guy learning discipline. Discipline at home had nothing rational to it, becoming thus an anti-discipline. Mine was not the only home like that. Boys in America tend to be raised without guidance for being a responsible grown up man. Perhaps it is the ongoing war pattern that left discipline to the military the way parents leave teaching to the schools and reverence for God to church.
All through my teens I was afraid of having to be in a war, though by good fortune slipped in and out between Korea and Vietnam. There was no way I could know that in advance. By then I knew USA was about a war for every generation and I was next. Looking back from my late 60s, seeing these anti-war films at ages 11 and 12 made me all the more afraid of going to war. I knew by then I have no such thing as "good luck." I never won anything. If there were a hundred chances on something and I had 99, the o1 would get it. It taught me at an early age never to gamble. War was a gamble for your life. Everyone goes into it knowing the chance of survival or not being made a cripple for life is uncertain. It was the kind of odds I did not see worth betting on. But the draft gave me no choice. Like Bruce Springsteen, I was born in the USA. By no will of my own, I was an American boy and war is what you go through when you're American.
Now that generals are no longer presidential material, the presidents turn out to be men who didn't have to go to war. They are more ready to set a war in motion than the generals. Got an economy problem? Start a war. John Wayne, the great WW2 hero of the movies, was a draft dodger. I didn't have a choice. The draft was on. Daddy saw to it I was enlisted in Navy Reserve before high school graduation. By then, the military was about the same as absolute evil where I was concerned. Because I was born American I had to join the war machine and be an active cog. I was not a good sailor. Graded for my performance in those 2 years active duty, I'd give myself a D-. An F would be dishonorable discharge. I fell just short of that and going to the brig for incompetence and absence of interest. I was that guy in the 50s pop song, Please Mr Custer, I don't wanna go. There's a redskin waitin out there fixin to take my hair.
I didn't want any of it. Never wanted to wear a uniform. Never wanted to march. Never wanted to salute somebody just because he went to college and I didn't. Never wanted to kill anybody. Never wanted to live in hierarchy. Did not want my life to be about death. Did not want to die young. My desperation to live in that time is extraordinary to look back on from here. I wanted to live. Wanted a chance to see who I would become. Wanted to have a life. As far as I could tell, I hadn't had a life yet. In fact, I felt like the day I was released from military obligation for being born in the wrong country was the beginning of my life. Up to then, I had lived by other people's directions, had no idea of my own, except to be outside the constrictions of reliance on war and money, and the false religion that goes with it. It was like all that was sacred was my enemy. All 3 systems, plus, wanted me dead.
I'm not proposing this as rational thinking. It was the thinking of a teenager who felt no support from any quarter, but a grandmother, the grandmother who came from these hills. She taught me things I needed to know, like don't be looking around in church, how to transplant something so it would live. Parents never taught me anything but to stay away from them and church. By age 23 I was finally able to live by my own decisions, however poor and uninformed they might be. I wasn't going back. That's when I was released from involuntary servitude and decided that to live on I needed education, needed to learn something worth knowing besides how to hold a rifle or kill the enemy. The enemy was all around me, the whole system of servitude for bullshit reasons I'd grown up in. Everything around me was unreal. I wanted to be real, whatever that meant. Authentic, maybe. Sincere, maybe. I don't believe those questions ever got settled. Even today when I call something real or unreal, I don't know exactly what I mean. Maybe it's what we call gut response. I know it down deep, but not on the surface in the world of words.
One of my apprehensions, now, about growing old is they say memory of the distant past is present. I've consciously kept my mind out of that era before age 23 as much as I'm able. What memories from then jump to the surface leave me in a bad mood. I've spent my adult life reparenting myself, exploring in the mind, learning as much as possible without it being a fixation, unplugging mental / emotional logjams, staying outside society. Patti Smith's song, Rock & Roll Nigger is playing in my head, Outside of society--that's where I wanna be! Baby, Baby, Baby, I'm a rock & roll nigger. Patti didn't make no bones about it. Recalling at a Papa Roach concert ten or less years ago, when they did the song with the lines, I know my mother loves me, but does my father really care?, it became a male chorus. The crowd was louder than the band, and it was all guys singing. That moment, I realized this is not just my issue. It's a national epidemic. Born in the USA.
The overwhelming popularity of the song Man Of Constant Sorrow from the movie O Brother spread the song to the city audience of men that the men of the country listening to bluegrass have known very well since Ralph Stanley recorded it not long after WW2. We are a nation of men of constant sorrow. Of course, there are exceptions. Recalling the time I mentioned to Jr I'd found Man of Constant Sorrow copyrighted by Carter Stanley. He said, "It's older than that. That song goes a long ways back." Carter must have copyrighted his arrangement. The song goes way back, but the song before it was written probably goes all the way back. 6,000 years of patriarchy, this is what men have come to, constant sorrow, which we pass to the feminine via dependence and to the next generation via dependence. Authority is how men rule, and I never wanted to have authority, nor did I want to be subject to authority. I can only tolerate someone I respect having authority over me. That's why I've worked mostly for women. Didn't make much money, but respected intelligent authority.