Hope everyone took the long Thanksgiving weekend to hunker down and not think about politics too much. But now it's Monday and He Who Shall Not Be Named Still Has No Name will soon be President. I spent a lot of time thinking about this piece. You could probably make the case that I should have spent less time thinking and more time writing, but there you have it. There are those who sadly leave us, and those who overstay their unwelcome. This is about the ambiguity between. "Twelve Musicians Who Died This Year React to the Election of Donald Trump".
It's always surprising to read something, even just a paragraph, that I wrote a long time ago and had completely forgotten about. Was I me then? Did I really think that? In any case, kudos to Kurt Baumeister for his work on this regular mini-feature for Entropy Magazine.
The doom sigh. The earnest paragraph. The urging to be better. A few statistics. The acknowledgement of humanity. A joke. An admonition. The wry final line.
I once had a professor who spent a lot of time hammering home the idea that nothing contemporary could exist without the lineage that came before it, that any innovation in science, math, pop culture, art, or dance was just a branch on a tree already thousands of years old. He was fond of the analogy that Duchamp's toilet could not exist if the Romans hadn't built the aqueducts. I was inclined to disagree, wanting to retain the notion that rogue genius could always break free of history, by its very definition refute context. I wanted this to be true for vague humanitarian reasons, but also because I secretly (not such a secret as it turns out) suspected a little rogue genius lay within me. That teenage conceit was choked down with a glass of bargain muscatel sometime around 1994, as I toiled for a construction company filled with bitter middle-aged carpenter/artists and filmmaker/plumbers who framed the realities of compromise and surrender around me. But I didn't know that yet, and so the professor and I continued to spar over the delusion of Uniqueness for the rest of the semester. I lost, repeatedly, for two main reasons: 1) Almost everything I knew about the world came from the books I'd read between the ages of fourteen and nineteen, and 2) The professor's rhetorical style alternated between Frighteningly Erratic and Charmingly Persuasive, to devastating effect. I didn't have the words, let alone ideas, to stand up to him. Which is just as well, since years later I came to realize he was 100% right. Take my favorite Marvin Gaye song, "Inner City Blues", which I am listening to as I type this. I've often wondered why there is no modern Marvin Gaye, or a contemporary pop song one ten-thousandth as good as "Inner City Blues". The answer is that there definitely are modern Marvin Gayes, what's missing is their access to the summer of 1971. "Inner City Blues" couldn't exist without the totality of the context that birthed it: Vietnam, Bull Conner, Detroit, Watts, George McGovern, Heinz catsup, Dirty Harry, Roberta Flack, Count Chocula, Rolling Stone, the Rolling Stones, Barnaby Jones. Which is why, after a lifetime of disparaging contemporary music, I've come to realize how self-defeating it is to disparage contemporary music. Dismissing Kanye or Migos or Taylor Swift is the equivalent of insisting "I Am Not Here Now." Which in a way is fine, since I would definitely have preferred to spend my youth in smoky clubs back in 1949, listening to Billie Holiday and Charlie Parker. But since that can never happen (at least without access to the Saudi Orb) the rejection of art that reflects current reality now seems like a form of anti-intellectualism. Which brings me (inevitably, unwantedly) to Donald Trump. The demented behavior of the last week is not random or even specific to political circumstance, it's happening because it has to happen. We tend to think everything Trump says and does is specific to his individual Trumpness, but in actuality he is a beast of pure and pathological context, an amalgam of every aspect of twenty-first century culture. And since the most important event of the 21st century was the election of a black president, it's impossible to avoid the conclusion that Barack Obama's non-whiteness is the single greatest driver behind Trump and his advisors and his sycophants and his jeering, dimwitted mob. Everything they stand for: the wall, family separation, tax cuts that further insulate the ultra-wealthy, hate rallies, denying health care, Space Force, Charlottesville, "shithole countries" that certain people were invited to go back to, all the endless and indefensible cruelties and deregulations, come from the fear of having, for eight years, lost Control. I have a friend who, during the 2012 elections, tried to convince me that if it came to it, Mitt Romney might not be so bad. At the time I was prepared to remove that friend from my Christmas card list, but maybe he was right. It's possible if Obama hadn't been re-elected and the McConnell/Brietbart/fascist wing of the Republican party was allowed to reestablish a face-saving degree of equilibrium, instead of fear and loathing we might have had four years of relatively sane, warm-pudding-in-a-sock Romney. Sure, he would have enacted all sorts of regressive policies, but it's almost certain he also would have respected institutions and shunned corruption and presided over the other 99% in a way that was relatively benign. Most importantly though, the election of Romney would have precluded Trump from ever entering the political arena, forcing him to remain the oily slick of tired hair jokes and laundered Russian mob money and nights clubbing around Manhattan with Jeffrey Epstein that he always was. In the end, wouldn't that have been better? Hard to say. The professor was right: nothing happens without the totality of the context it inhabits. Like it or not, Donald Trump, in the full carnival of his grotesqueness, is an exact representation of America as it is currently comprised. The question is do we have the will to strive for Uniqueness (whether or not it actually exists) and change (impeach) the course of our narrative? Because the space we occupy this moment in history is beyond terrifying, and the people we are becoming, even just by proximity, are indefensible.