There Go I…

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a hockey guy. I’m a hockey guy from, err, way back.*

*I’m pretty sure the definition of “way back” is when you see the sons of players you loved as a kid entering the league…

Now, most of the US sports-news outlets are garbage when it comes to hockey. I am, in fact, pretty sure that ESPN doesn’t even realize there is such a thing as a sport played on that mythical thing called “ice”.

Thank God, then, for Canadian networks…

One of those networks — TSN, if you’re curious — just ran a story about a former NHL player named Joe Murphy. Now, Murphy was drafted very, very high in a star-rich draft in 1986. While he wasn’t a perennial All-Star during his NHL career, he most definitely was a legit player on any team in the league.

Then he disappeared.

No, really, he pretty much fell off the face of the planet.

A reporter from TSN recently took on the challenge of tracking Murphy down to see what had happened after his playing days. After much effort, that reporter finally did find him…found him drug-addicted, broke and homeless. After a fifteen year playing career, after earning millions, after having everything, Joe Murphy had become one of those guys holding a sign on the street-corner…

Now, the writer in me can make a hundred stories out of that situation; out of the why’s and how’s, out of the choices made, and out of the tragedies that resulted from those choices.

But I’m not just a writer…

I never knew Joe Murphy. I do, however, count more than a few current and former NHL players as friends. I know the pitfalls they face, and the prices they pay. Mental and emotional prices, as much as the physical ones.

I know the very fine line they walk, and how quickly it can all disappear. Especially after retirement, especially when — for the first time in their lives — no one knows their name. When no one is cheering, when every single aspect of the life they’ve led since they were three or four years old is different. When they no longer have a place or a purpose in the world.

It’s more complicated than just this, but that dislocation and desperation is one of the themes behind the fantasy story I’m currently developing, as well as being one of the reasons why it is (tentatively) titled Once Magnificent

Joe Murphy is not the first athlete to fall, just as he is not the first successful person to lose everything, but still his story resonates with me. Still, his story means something to me. As a guy who has lost everything more than once in my life, as a guy who battles my own private demon of depression, I can sympathize with Murphy.

No, that’s not quite right…

I don’t feel for Joe Murphy, I very well could be Joe Murphy.

Murphy, alongside a host of a nameless others, is one of those unspoken reasons why I write, why my stories and characters inevitably revolve around the flawed and the broken.

D21E96E2-4A53-405A-98D0-0E857B426261I’ve said a million times on this blog that I write for me. I’ve said that, but it’s not 100% true. I write for me, yes, but I write also for anyone and everyone who just might see a bit of themselves in my words. For anyone and everyone who might take even a grain of hope at burdens (and demons) shared. For those for whom that light at the end of the tunnel never seems to get any nearer…

Another Titan is Gone

A conversation came up a few days ago, one about old-school comedians and those who have truly stood the test of time. Now, that conversation may have simply faded into the background, never to be remarked upon nor even remembered, had the real world, and yet another death, not intruded.

Aretha Franklin was one of the all-time great talents. There is no limiting her to a specific genre or style, no limiting her to “great female performer” or “great black performer.” She was great. Period. Full stop. She was a performer whose impact and legacy will rightfully be felt long, long after her passing.

This post started solely as a tribute to Ms Franklin, and a recognition of her passing, but then the little wheels of my brain started turning. I started to think about the all-time greats, about those who will truly live on past their deaths, and about how far above the rest they truly stand.

Whether singer, painter, writer, or any other form of artist, the ultimate achievement to which we can aspire is to leave behind something that matters.* Aretha’s position in history is solid and secure because of her influence, and the works she has left behind, but how many others can honestly make that claim?

*As ever, there’s a song for that: Chuck Ragan’s “What We Leave Behind.”

How many singers today will have their music and talent live on for decades, if not centuries? How many writers, or actors, or — indeed — comedians, will influence those who follow anywhere near as much as Aretha Franklin?

Two decades ago, Jerry Seinfeld was praised as the greatest comedian of the age. Today, how many truly look to his show, or his performances, as one of the greats? How many would honestly rank that show with M*A*S*H? Or Seinfeld himself with someone like Bob Hope?

As I mentioned in the intro, Aretha’s death brought back to me that conversation I had about comedians — and about what, and who, we consider great. What sit-com or show today can stand against Monty Python’s Flying Circus? When I look back, there really are only a handful of shows on that short list: I love Lucy, The Carol Burnett Show, All in the Family, M*A*S*H, Cheers…

Whether or not you were even alive when those were made, they stand the test of time. I know kids and young teens today who still crack-up at the Three Stooges, and who would rather watch them than anything on TV or NetFlix.

You can make that list for just about anything, by the way. You can make it for actors, or for writers, or directors or painters…or for singers.

I may have my current fixation and passion for bluegrass- and folk-influenced rock, yes, but not even my favorites can stand up against the true greats. Gaslight Anthem versus Aretha Franklin? Mumford & Sons versus Billie Holiday? Chuck Ragan versus Otis Redding? The Avett Brothers versus Robert Johnson? Those aren’t even contests.

In honor of Aretha Franklin, then, and the other titans we have lost, take some time over the next few days and weeks to return to the works of those you consider truly great. Listen to their albums, watch their movies, read their books…

If, as Chuck Ragan said in the song I linked, “all we are is what leave behind,” then those few are the best of us. Return to them, not just to learn but also to enjoy…and to acknowledge true greatness.

IMG_0720And, as a final thought: Rest In Peace, Aretha.  All the respect in the world is yours…

Light That Bonfire And Get Those Vanities Ready…

What the hell is happening to us?

I’ve mentioned before my belief that what will finally destroy the US, as a nation and as a culture, is our descent into the madness of defining political opponents as enemies. I didn’t think, at the time I wrote that post, that I also had to spell out the corollary that defining speech and points-of-view with which you disagree as dangerous is just as bad…

But that’s where we’re at.

What in the hell ever happened to the concept of defending other folks’ right to say things you may not personally like? Are we really going to keep going down the path of listing as dangerous and evil those words and opinions with which we don’t happen to agree?*

Yeah, that civil war I expect ain’t a decade off, it’s right around the damned corner. We’re pretty much fucked.

The worst part about writing this post is that I despise the asswagon who spawned it. Alex Jones is a tool, let’s get that out in the open right from the get-go. He is that rare blend of lunatic, asshole and fool all rolled into one. He is, when you get right down to it, everything that’s wrong with humanity in one unpleasant package of uselessness.

But that doesn’t make right the various social networks’ silencing of him, and voices like his. Look, I ignored InfoWars and the other idiocy of Jones’ ilk from Day One because it was pretty obvious just how unhinged those folks truly were. So did many, many other people. A free marketplace-of-ideas means folks are free to say and write pretty much whatever they want, but it also means the rest of us are just as free to ignore whatever we want. If something is stupid, or foolish, or demented, or just plain vile, then the answer is simple: DON’T READ IT!

But that’s not enough, not anymore. No, nowadays the only answer, apparently, is to actively silence the writers and ideas that used to be — quite successfully — ignored and marginalized by normal folks.

Are we really so terrified of the ranting inanity of people like Alex Jones that we have to eliminate their very words? That’s not just stupid, it’s more dangerous than he could ever even try to be.

AE7F8FFD-E231-461B-A5C0-1ADF51AD8B7BApple and Facebook and Twitter and Google and the other players in the modern tech game did not create the divisions and dangers that threaten everything about the US today, but they are making them worse. Oh, they’re not sitting there like liberal Blofelds, stroking cats and planning to fuck with the weather…no, what they’re doing is much worse than that: they’re acting out of cowardice and pure, short-sighted greed.

They don’t want to be criticized. They don’t want to be protested. They want only to siphon every penny they can, and control every bit of data they can, with no interference or trouble. They want to be the robber-barons that they truly are with no discontent, and certainly with no interference or disagreement. And they want all of that without disturbing their self-images as the torch-bearers of tolerance and progressivism that will save humanity from itself.

The decision to shut down various voices — whether loony ones like Jones, or the everyday voices of conservatives and libertarians that have been silenced by the social platforms — simply allows people like Tim Cook and Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey to avoid criticism or protest for “hosting” such voices, while simultaneously playing into their personal echo-chamber-dominated, rose-tinted view of themselves as “protectors and champions.”

I can’t cuss enough to show my derision for that particular sentiment, by the way. I can take care of — and think for — myself, thank you very much, Mr Cook.

There are moves afoot to silence voices on all kinds of topics…from global warming, to immigration, to various social and economic philosophies, the go-to response has become to silence, rather than to dispute. To silence, rather than to debate and educate. What we are growing is a New Orthodoxy, one that is never to be questioned, let alone disagreed with…for the “good of all,” of course.

9770B227-EFB4-480A-BE6F-110305CA6236We’re watching a modern, electronic auto-da-fe of which Savonarola would be very, very proud…

*I can’t even imagine not reading ideas and thoughts and opinions that are not just different, but are diametrically opposed. The friction between viewpoints really is the only way to pull aside the layers of bullshit and confirmation bias and get at something resembling the truth.  Just to give a bit of an idea, here is my regular morning reading list: The Drudge Report, The Guardian (both US and UK versions), Fox News, BBC News, The Washington Post, The Nation, Reason, The Hill, The Cipher Brief, The National Review, and the Real Clear “family” of sites…

Schadenfreude

63E1C0B4-DAD6-4E75-8161-E847AB9361C0Okay, so, I hate Facebook. This should not come as a surprise to anyone — I’ve been pretty open about my opinion of the whole damned platform ever since I started this blog.

I’ve hated Facebook since they first got going, and I hate them even more now. Hell, when a supposedly “secret” memo from a top executive leaked a few weeks ago — you know, the one where he said ethics, morality and the law mean nothing in the face of Facebook’s “greater mission” to “connect people” — it did nothing but confirm my disdain for the company, and anyone who works for them.

Yeah, yeah, I know…I say I hate the company, but I have a Facebook page linked to this blog. But…well…look, cognitive dissonance and I are old, old friends, okay? I created that page as a “should-do/must-do,” not a “want to do.” Hell, all anyone has to do is take a look at my timeline and check out my complete lack of connections or activity to see that.

So, when I saw the story the other day about the nosedive in Facebook stock…well…I know it’s petty, but I have to admit to a certain (large) amount of satisfaction in the corporate and financial pain associated with that. The simple fact of the matter is that Facebook creeps me the hell out. The amount of data they collect, and the invasive tactics and techniques that they employ to collect that data  — up to and including outright spying — are things I find pretty damned repugnant. And the smug, self-righteous disdain with which they treat any concern or complaint about those tactics and techniques is even worse…

Worse yet, I should add, is the “addiction” they intentionally inculcate in so many of their users. Even moderate users waste hour upon hour scanning their timelines in order to read and “like” posts. Hours on end spent staring at a screen, searching for the tiniest update from people with whom they have only the barest connection. Hours spent sending updates on great-aunts and great-grandchildren no one else knows. Hours spent looking at stupid memes and watching cat videos. Hours spent, when you get right down to it, trading true connections and real links for arm’s-length, electronic simulacra. Hours spent not reading or studying or doing something worthwhile.686681D3-5141-4C0D-9373-68DABF4668CF

Oh, and cat videos, for fuck’s sake…

Oh yeah, creepy as hell.

You have to wonder if the DARPA folks back in the 70’s would’ve been better off just getting drunk and skipping work that day they came up with the “internet”…

I’m hoping that, when the markets open on Monday, there will be yet more tankage for the one company in the entire universe that can make freaking Google look all restrained and innocent and pure.

In hockey, there are teams I don’t like, and I want to seem them lose. Well, life (in this case) most definitely imitates sports: I want to see companies I don’t like lose, too. I don’t want to see regulation or government control — neither of which would do a damned thing — I just want to see them go down in well-deserved financial flames.

Hey…I said it was petty, that doesn’t mean I think it’s bad!