From the Hip | Shattering a Beautiful Lie

Tom Waits 

Tom Waits 

Before I begin the laborious process of enlightening my eager readers, I feel compelled to offer my gratitude to the Central Committee of the American Psychiatric Action Group and their collaboration with the management and editorial staff of Spaces Quarterly. Due to their actions on my behalf, I have discovered that I am able to leave the undisclosed location of my command bunker—sans tin foil hat—and interact with the general population of this strange land without arousing too much suspicion.

The Fox News and talk radio idiot beams and the dark and corrosive algorithms of the Internet are apparently less destructive if one interacts publicly with kind and gentle souls who are attempting to live socially conscious and groovy lives.

As I started to write about Tom Waits and his latest album, Bad as Me, and Leonard Cohen and his latest, titled Old Ideas, I fell into a strange trance-like state and the music of Fela Kuti and his son, Femi Kuti, overwhelmed my frontal lobes and male nether regions. The incredible pleasures of seeing Femi at the Metro in Wrigleyville (in Chicago) reminded me that music, as the human species itself, is at its most inspiring when recognizing our African origins. Nigerian Afro-pop is at its most inspiring when offered by Femi , “The President in Africa.”

Femi Kuti
Femi Kuti

Today in Chile, Nigeria, West Africa, and most of Latin America, musicians are becoming not only spiritual leaders, but activists and candidates for political office.  Sadly, here in “the shining city upon the hill,” bad actors, sanctimonious doctors, and financial industry charlatans have enrapt vanilla America to perpetuate the fiction that their excesses are not only without consequence, but virtuous. This lunacy is shouted louder and from more shills in order to cloud the listeners’ ability to use reason. In fact, we can return to the happy suburban world of John Hughes movies where everyone is white, upper middle class and lives in suburban Chicago.

Of course, you, my gentle readers, shall have the opportunity to have this “beautiful lie” shattered by the unwavering truth of your esteemed messenger.

On Bad as Me, Tom Waits sounds like a five-pack-a-day, whiskey guzzling carnival barker with a bad meth habit that almost makes me wish to be a Bukowski character from the excruciating novel, Factotum. Beauty and horror intermingle in his songs and the Texas-Mexico border region of his youth can be heard in his Western, beat poet, punk, folk fusion that is an art form few souls would dare to inhabit.

Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen inhabit similar haunts in their own unique ways—and we shall also glance at Mr. Cohen—but, Tom has lived a life where the inclusion of many cultural styles has created an otherworldly chic that is both intoxicating and terrifying.

Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen

A native to Montreal—my own favorite human-infested locale—Leonard Cohen could be viewed as the spiritual Yin to Tom’s Yang. Also a novelist, poet, and actor, Leonard is recognized by both the French and Canadian governments as a living treasure. On Old Ideas, his already bass voice has deepened to such a range that if it were broadcast by an underwater microphone, I believe he could summon every whale on the planet to do his bidding.

His music has led him to great success as a ladies’ man, even going back beyond his Chelsea Hotel period; women, love, isolation, and regret are his stock in trade. It seems that Cohen has more soul than a white man could possibly possess. And it’s that truth that gives me hope to find redemption and receive the blessings of this article’s moral beacon: Dave Chappelle.

What I failed to reveal earlier about my vision quest was that Dave Chappelle appeared as my guide. Chappelle has powers as a comedian hitherto only granted to lofty and suffering Russian novelists such as Mikhail Bulgakov and Vladimir Voinovich. Those few members of our species who can weave tales of the beauty, horror, and comical banality of our existence possess the power of sorcery and alchemy and pay dearly for their gifts.

Dave-Chappelle-Comedy Store
Dave-Chappelle-Comedy Store

Dave Chappelle had his famous existential crisis and walked away from incredible success and its monetary rewards. He said he was tired of white people laughing for all the wrong reasons at his material.  The Chappelle’s Show's racial draft was in fact a warning to Whitey to get his house in order.

In the afterlife, as my spirit guide whispered to me, white Americans will be judged on whether they would be worthy of being drafted by the black team.  If this reminds you of Oskar Schindler, who was granted the honorific description as a righteous gentile and friend of the Jews, it should. The paths to redemption are many and many are strange. If you are less groovy and spiritually flexible you may, like much of the German officer corps of World War II, wait too long and die futilely and horribly for your sins.

I suggest that the beginning of any proper spiritual transformation involves listening to all of the artists listed in this article. Also, as I am sure few of you are well-acquainted with Femi Kuti, listen to the album Africa for Africa.

You don’t have to wear a dashiki to become hip; just live a life enriched by other cultures and new art forms. If the roguish Nazi opportunist Oskar Schindler could become a righteous man, maybe even an “overfed, long-haired, leaping gnome” (the words of Eric Burdon) such as myself has a chance.

Those of us in “Red State America” bear the burden of choosing sides. Ignoring the darkness is at best a sin of omission and no longer acceptable. Love, tolerance, and grooviness take real courage—not sanctimony and righteous indignation.