My Life in Song

I wasn’t born a doomer, nor a social critic. The path was long and imperial, albeit dotted with few indulgences, as least by “civilized” standards.

I was born in a small town. I was taught to fear Jesus in another small town, the backwoods logging burg where I misspent my youth. It was the 1960s and the country was in the midst of its cultural revolution. I didn’t know much about the revolution — tiny, insular towns weren’t globalized back in the days of my youth, and I was a kid interested in hunting, fishing, and baseball.

Fast forward to the glory days of high school, where I was a decent athlete, excellent student (that is, a product and proponent of empire), and all-around smartass. I spent a summer in the deep South, where I discovered African Americans and therefore blatant racism (we ignorantly and indiscriminately hated all people of color where I grew up, but the primary “other” was native Americans because there were very few other non-Caucasians around).

Off to college, then, with a pocket full of dreams. Sadly, I was too late for either the cultural revolution or the sexual revolution. By my sophomore year in college, it was “morning in America” and we were governed by an actor whose best roles revealed him as cowboy and father of a chimp. He ripped the solar panels off the White House, rolled back the level playing field for non-fossil energy sources, laughed off the notion of conservation, and promoted globalization at all costs. I’m not pleased to hear it’s morning in America all over again. Like most Americans, I ignored the whole mess the first time around by attempting to become a silver-tongued devil in this best of all possible worlds, looking for a lover who wouldn’t drive me crazy while chasing women and basketball. Although I failed with most of those pursuits, I learned a bit about catastrophes and the power of nature by herding wildfires during the summer months and witnessing remarkable natural phenomena: I know exactly where I was when I experienced ambient temperature of -52 F, and also when Mt. St. Helens blew her top.

On to graduate school on the plains of western Texas, where I learned more about fire ecology and finally got a little culture. Yes, you read that correctly: I was so lacking in culture that the Texas panhandle provided a decent start. Throughout the whole grad-school experience, I was growing older but not up. By all accounts, I was impressive, young and aggressive, saving the world on my own. Nearly five years later, Ph.D. in hand, happiness was Lubbock, Texas in my rear-view mirror. By this time, I could imagine there’s no heaven — it’s easy if you try.

On the road again, this time back to the South to study theoretical ecology and conservation biology and learn more about racism. Staying on the nose-to-the-grindstone track, keeping the blinders on while developing a budding career, I made another stop in Texas before landing in Tucson, Arizona, where they built a bunch of ugly boxes. Jesus, people bought ’em.We were among the buyers and, for us, it was paradise.

Somewhere along the way, I started thinking about the whole rotten, stinking offal we’ve created. I noticed the search for the truth is conducted with a wink and a nod. The latest spin on the shit we’re in began to eke into my consciousness, and I started weaving my own version of it. Through serious study (for the first time, for me) and brain-taxing thought (which didn’t take much, given how little I’d used the atrophying gray matter), I decided to speak truth to power regardless of the cost to my so-called career. At this point, I’ll keep fighting authority, knowing authority will always win. At this point, I’m the same old trouble they’ve been having for years.

If I were to pick a theme song, John Mellencamp’s Authority Song would be the one. At some point, not so far away, nature becomes the ultimate authority. And that’s when I’ll stop fighting authority. At that point, I’ll need a new theme song. Got any ideas?

Finally, nearly 50 years into this life, I love the now, and the here. When it all comes tumbling down, we’ll all be living close to nature. Personally, I look forward to living in the world. And perhaps I’ll be able to charm the small crowd of neighbors, making them dance till they all fall down.

Looking for silly self-indulgence? You’ve come to the right blog.

Comments 31

  • Wait a minute – I thought you didn’t like music …?

  • Yep, Court. I’m a human. And therefore a hypocrite. Allow me to explain my own contradictions, at least in this case.
    First, there’s my own internal philosophical struggle between two giants of philosophy. Like Socrates, I think music is a distraction from important issues of the day. He was dealing with the likes of Homer, so I can understand his position quite clearly. Pornography for the ears, as it were. Imagine what he’d think about, well, pornography.
    Then there’s Nietzsche, who held the following in high regard: artists, philosophers, and saints. He was a philosopher, so I smell a slight conflict of interest in the second case. And by the time he wrote his last book, The Antichrist, I’m guessing he wasn’t holding saints in such high regard. At least not the Christian ones. That left him with artists, including Wagner, who he loved, until he hated him.
    And of course I love the music of my youth. Who doesn’t, despite himself?
    Finally, an academic life is a life of service, though you’d never know it by observing most of my colleagues. Through this blog, I continue to serve, in this case my dozen or so readers.
    Okay, that last one’s just silly.

  • We can’t have people getting the unveracious impression that this blog site is only for Professor Guy and his Nepotistic Nattering Nephew. No,so Frank comes to the rescue
    with his own mea culpa:I’m not perfect either.I make mistakes just like anyone else,to wit: I made an error in 1983.If anyone desires the details I’ll be pleased to submit same.

  • I too sufered disillusionment in my youth.Was reminded of that when Professor Guy referred to John Mellencamp.I can remember when his name was John “Cougar” Mellencamp.
    When John dropped the “Cougar” in his name I realized that you can’t go home again–nothing is sacred anymore. Sigh.

  • I believe in elegant simplicity.Always strive for the true essence of a problem.So it was hearthening to learn that the world capitalistic system has been brought down by the Gaussian Copula Function.Learn more by Googling it’s inventor,David X. Li.

  • I recommend the March issue of Wired magazine for it’s famous and iconic front page story on the Gaussian Copula Function.

  • Guy!
    Music is what I have been trying to explain to you. It is joy. Joy incarnate.
    It is a feeling of letting go, and that is not comfortable for many people.
    Let the music move you?
    Here is a temporary theme song. After all music is about the moment, and you cannot hold on to it or ever have it back again.
    I’ll think of something more fitting for you specifically, and then report back to you.
    IN THE PEAK OIL VEIN: Invest in compost. No one will steal it, but it is a source of great wealth. Just beware of the fascists. Fascist in the sense of one party rule (pseudo-separation counts as one), glorification of war, identification of scapegoats, and belligerent nationalism. You can only do your part.

  • Achilles’ Last Stand?
    Ok, I’ll really think about it for a while now. The title just seemed about right.

  • Guy,
    Lenin gave up chess for reasons similar to Socrates and his music. And despite the the fear of music, Socrates new the value of wine.
    Despite her ecological illiteracy, Ayn Rand, in one of her many manifestos, wrote cogently about the effects of music on the mind. Something, if I remember it right, to do with the bypassing of cognition, the shortcut music takes from perception to feeling.
    Scary indeed, if it’s that beautiful nazi marching music Frank adores. But what would Russia be without its crying violins? What would my days in Bloomington, IN have meant without John Cougar? (It would be interesting to see if that little pink house MTV gave away to a lucky winner in 1987 is now in forclosure.)
    Reality is not, I think, a replacement for the emotive life. Reality should be its anchor; the designated driver. Meaning and purpose in a post carbon world, a world closer to nature, may be found not only in a life that makes sense though, but in a new life of the senses. Let’s hope, at least, that the birds continue to sing a bit longer.

  • Oh, and as for a new song – what you need when your pushing off from the shore is a canoeing song ala the French-Canadian Voyageurs.

  • I’ve never understood how music could be considered pornography for the mind. Well, maybe New Kids on the Block. But you’ll bear in mind that in Socrates’ Republic, writing of ‘non-truths’ would be banned and the production of poetry was a crime punishable by death. In fact, if memory serves, I think he wanted the grubbing lower classes of workers and managers to be illiterate. I’m with the wise man on many points but I’m afraid I’ll have to part ways with him there. So I take his views of music in the same vein.
    One of America’s chief greatnesses rests in its musical inventions, jazz, blues, country, rock ‘n roll, even hip hop. (But mostly blues, country, and rock.) So I say let this part of your Americanness shine bright, and do your patriotic duty, and go listen to some CCR.

  • Perhaps Socrates had envisioned some of the bad poetry that would start circulating on the internet via chain letters and his was just a preemptive intellectual strike?
    Still, doesn’t seem fair. Music, lying (aka bullshitting), and intoxication are among humanities favorite pastimes. Take any one of those away, and we’d be a grumpier bunch of primates, I promise you that.
    Of course, personally, I’ve been in a “Tool” and “Rage Against the Machine” sort of mood lately…so…maybe it’s safe to say I’m cranky w/ or w/o the music.

  • mike:
    Lenin lied.He lost a brilliant Alekhine(BO3) as White to Maxim Gorky at Capri,1908.The complete game is on

  • As I write this the stock market is making new lows for the 21st Century,as the full significance of the GCF(Gaussian Copula Function)stings Wall Street.No one,not even Doctor Li himself ever really understood it,as greed and criminal irresponsibility blinded them to reality.They have sown the wind,they shall reap the whirlwind.

  • When I googled David X.Li yesterday I got 3 million hits,today 8 million.In the IT era information spreds like the speed of light,especially disaster information.

  • GCF was not a secret.Li was the new messiah,everyone on Wall Street knew it and copied it.When all the CEO’s thought they would become fabulously wealthy based on a fallacious formula,their greed became infinite.

  • I thought I sent you some ideas for theme songs (including two different songs titled “Nature Boy”) a day or two ago, but I don’t see them here. Maybe your system has decided that one McPherson is enough.

  • Maybe it was because I included several links, so it thought I was a spammer. Anyway, other possibilities included two from the Beatles (“Mother Nature’s Son” and “Blackbird”) or one of three or four from the Beachwood Sparks (which no one has ever heard of, but sings 70s-style music). You can see lots of other nature-related theme song ideas at

  • Big Brother James:
    Where have you been? We missed you.
    You’re wrong about too many of you.This is a highly nepotistic web site i.e.Professor Guy,Nattering Nephew Court,and you.
    Welcome back–don’t stay away so long.

  • Maybe Socrates would have dug Bruchner or Pete Seeger, who knows? his sample population for musical genres was vanishingly small (as far as we know).

  • Thanks, Frank. Alas, between my real job and my own blog, I rarely feel I have the time to add something particularly insightful to the discussion here. I check in regularly to keep learning, however.

  • OK, one more comment, re, “I wasn’t born a doomer…”
    I suspect doomers (unlike boomers) are made, not born. For both better and worse, I think they also are largely “self made.” :-)

  • My relative disdain for businesspeople and pseudopsychobabble related to “leader ship”, “teambuilding” and mottos, etc. aside…I have to say, the fellow who said this was right:
    If you’re not confused, you’re not paying attention.
    Only, I would also insert the words: doomerish, off-put, spurred to action against inequities… well, actually, my list is a little long. Maybe confused is the better option.
    As one not quite a doomer, but certainly not a polyanna, and someone trying to do positive things while battling a tendancy toward a negative outlook. I can’t claim membership in the doom ranks, but I seriously doubt doomers are self-made. I think environment plays a big role.
    Seriously, any person who is paying attention has to have sone moments–once in a while–where they secretly wish to see our hubristically inclined culture get a major kick in its arrogant, overfed arse.
    My own personal frustrations with the stupidity of the whole system often makes me yearn for some powerful, overarching, abrogative force would come in and just blow the whole damned mess out of the water so better people might be able to create something better.
    Time and Nature always have the last laugh. Still, I don’t know if I’ll be alive to witness the exact moment when they step in…and I’m even less certain I’d be laughing with them, considering the implications…

  • Guy
    Neil Youngs – ‘Dreamin Man’ (harvest moon)
    or ‘Natural Beauty’ (harvest moon)
    or ‘Cortez the Killer’ (zuma)
    (a lament for the world before the ‘new world’)
    or Vaughan Wiliamns ‘Lark Ascending’ (more a pastoral lullaby than an anthem,
    man is a passive viewer)
    clearly I haven’t given this much thought,
    how can one be indifferent to music? humanity’s greatest achievement.
    an artform so completely abstract and yet amazingly evocative.
    ‘lark ascending’ is an example – I cant think of another piece
    of music that can evoke a landscape as well
    having said that I am not a classical music buff
    giving Catton another read…
    he had concerns about overshoot and carry capacity
    in 1980 when the population was 4 billion…
    what would he say now?

  • and another thing
    ‘rust never sleeps’
    to paraphrase Matt Simmons and his
    concerns about the current low oil
    price and the lack of investment
    in refinery maintenance and capacity
    going forward.
    we are still talking about peak oil here?

  • Just a note that things are continuing apace:Before the economic meltdown the total world stock market value was $60 trillion.2/3’s of that or $40 trillion has been erased.As I’ve written here before,the depredations to the earth were only possible because of pernicious capital.So much of that has already been destroyed.
    Trillions more in home values have also been erased.That problem,like all economic problems today are world-wide.

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