The Cold Hard Facts of Life
[Warning: This is, in my mind, anyhow, a continuation of the discussion begun in my previous post.] Last Sunday morning, ’round about our second cup of coffee, we noticed what appeared to be a juvenile blue heron standing still at the far end of our pond. This is a beautiful thing.
Last fall I was summoned to my wife’s grandmother’s house to view a bloodhound. A gaunt, friendly rescue dog with very large brown eyes.
And so, when our home was nearly finished and we mostly lived in it, we took the dog in.
The next time we saw the blue heron it was horizontal, carried off toward the woods in the mouth of the big red dog.
An hour later I found the dog by the side of our gravel road, rolling in the grass next to a dead chicken, one of the 19 we’d hatched earlier in the spring.
When I was a boy we had a half-Siamese, half-Burmese cat with half a tail that was all hunter. Ding Hao, he was called. He used to come home from construction sites nearby with garter snakes in his mouth, bouncing up and down like a green mustache as he bounded to our lawn filled with fun and delight. Of course the snakes broke their backs in transit and ceased to wiggle, so he had to go back for another. For a time — until he was run over by a car — it became my job to clear the lawn of snakes before one of my elders mowed.
Point being the dog is only playing with the birds, and they cease to be fun once their neck breaks slopping about in her mouth. She doesn’t even leave a tooth mark.
She got another one, and we began operant conditioning. Or I did, sporadically.
This morning she got three, and so we gave up on our plastic fencing and pushed the chickens back into the barn and their metal pen, and contemplated what to do next. I fear we shall have to give the dog up, but my wife and daughter fell first for the big brown eyes, and so my vote doesn’t entirely count.
Yes, this will be about music and digital downloads. Bear with me.
It is near 90 degrees outside as I type this, and I’m only just in from spreading lime on all our greasy bean plants. This year’s hill wisdom for how to kill beetles and such without using Seven. And since we are sharecropping two hives of bees, pesticides are out.
This is how I feed my family. I have a very part-time job in the family business that I probably wouldn’t have were I not the son-in-law, though I seek as always to give value for the dollar. I have no career, only the desire to write and the impulse to design. And so what I do by way of contributing to our dining table is work to raise as much of our food as can be done. Under the careful tutelage of my father-in-law, and everybody (including 90-year-old Mamaw) helps.
We have built as environmentally friendly a home as we could manage, with the goal of using the smallest amount of fossil fuels possible. This is an economic choice, not an aesthetic one. We eat locally because we can better afford to do so, not because it is the thing to do.
When I was a teenager my best friend and I had a campfire question: If a flying saucer landed today and offered you a one-way ticket, would you take it? Up until marriage and parenthood, I’d have gone. Every time. That our house is round (it’s a DelTec kit) and, to my eye, resembles a flying saucer (I call the place Little Green Man Acres, but wife and daughter rebel against it) in some way assuages that itch.
That the last flight of the space shuttle has just landed, that there seems no further plan to explore space in place…that is a great sadness.
Because…because I am informed, as I type and think, by these things. By peak oil (see: William Howard Kunstler, et. al); by global warming (see: Al Gore, et. al); by the rise of the corporate state (see: Chris Hedges, et. al); by the coming resource wars (see: Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle, Avatar, etc., and, yes, I am reduced to citing science fiction, what of it?). I realize these are all fringe liberal sources, and many readers will discount them accordingly. It is not my intent to persuade you; it is my hope to describe my own point of view as fully and coherently as quickly typing these missives makes possible.
Fundamentally I do not believe in our future.
My guess is that, in the coming resource wars, corporations the size of which we can only barely imagine will summon the monies to try to mine in space, and maybe succeed. I am not sanguine about their chances, nor what it means for us as a society to devolve space exploration from a public to a private venture. But they don’t ask me, now, do they?
We have believed, in these United States, my whole life, that we were moving forward. Forward toward a world in which we worked less and lived better, forward toward a world swaddled in democracy, without hunger. We have believed in the inevitable evolution of our species.
I do not believe that, not now.
What I believe is that we have come to the top of a hill. We are about to find ourselves needing more oil than we can afford, and the impact on our environment and our economy will be devastating. We already find ourselves buffeted by the first salvos of global warming, and can do nothing about it (as individuals) save adapt the best we can, grow what we can, when we can. The corporate state is here and there’s nothing to be done about it, for nobody cares, and those who do are so laughably absurd as to be easy to ignore. (Like me, eh?)
What has this to do with music, then?
This: Two things.
First. Those who embrace the new technology believe implicitly that we are moving forward. That new is better, that not having the music in your physical possession is better. My fear is that the entertainment industry is an increasingly seductive distraction from everything else, and that it increasingly makes of us a sedentary people. In all kinds of ways. I gather many of the new sites I don’t patronize function more or less as directed radio. I don’t want that. I want time to listen and explore on my own, but we all know I’m not like everybody else. (Who is?)
Second…at the risk of sounding more paranoid than I really am…if I go buy, say, a Steve Earle record at a retail outlet and pay cash for it, nobody knows. But if I download, say, “John Walker’s Blues” from iTunes, my sense is that there is a permanent digital record of that. Now…not now, but someday…should Big Brother decide that the people who listen to that song are somehow dangerous, or, at least, worthy of further study…I dunno. I don’t trust the size and power of the businesses dominating our society. We are taught the internet is a great leveler, a tool of democracy, and maybe sometimes, in some limited settings, it can be. But in the main playing the internet business game (just ask Kyla) is an expensive proposition, and because the technology changes constantly (as does the marketplace) the spending never stops. It is a game, in short, that only the very rich can play.
I saw Rob McNurlin last night, playing with the wonderful steel guitar legend Kayton Roberts (Hank Snow’s accompanist). With Kayton along Rob plays mostly covers, and so delved into the Porter Wagoner songbook for “The Cold Hard Facts of Life.”
I have made my choices, folks. I realize mine is a minority position, but I have put my time and what little money I have down on the best bets for my family I can make. It’s the best I can do.