I watched a dusty old science film recently of a lady who takes a powerful hallucinogenic drug in a laboratory. The change is amazing and beautiful: she goes from being a typical 50s housewife to quietly gushing about how the air is alive all around her with dancing technicolor molecules, connected to every other thing in the world. The researcher, his vibe very dull and uninteresting, blandly asks her, “Is it all one?” She pauses, considers this and says, “It would be if you weren’t here.”
This is essentially how I feel about dominator culture. It has an intrusive, degrading quality that tends to homogenize people and trivialize real experience. I’ve never used those drugs, even the milder ones, but people ask me questions like his all the time. They act as if it’s some sort of inquiry, but what they’re really saying is, Why are you like this? I wish I could feel that way too. They can, though.
The thing about feeling this way is that you look at someone or you look at something, and you are that thing. It makes for a real depth of connection and feeling in this world, but also overwhelming sadness when you see images of animals in a factory farm. I would do anything to help that beautiful baby calf locked in that crate, and I will spend the rest of my life doing all I can for him. I spend a lot of time trying to find ways to be of help in this world. But that’s not so unusual. There are many people who do a lot more than me.
Welcome. I’m Tristan. I grew up in the woods of the Berkshires. I was a curious kid, a lover of animals and nature.
I fell in love and felt real heartbreak before I started playing music. I was nineteen when I started taking it seriously. I threw myself into it. My first instrument was drums, and I was fortunate to study with a world class jazz musician named Randy Kaye. Randy Kaye was a poet on the drums: a true artist, especially with brushes. Graceful, subtle, very unique. From the start I got a creative, non-traditional perspective in my instruction, and I threw myself into the craft. I was lucky: Randy saw my dedication and in a year or so, started sending me on subs for him.
I went to school and studied jazz and music theory. I focused on piano and keyboards along with drums as my concentration; I loved the way it let me play the riffs I’d been dependent on others to play. With a little keyboard knowledge I could sketch out the harmony to the Miles Davis piece I was listening to day and night, play the bass line to the Sade song I was in love with.
Growing up, I wondered why music had such a strange power over me. When I started to study it I was like a lifelong drug addict finally learning to grow his own plants and synthesize his own chemicals. It doesn’t take much to understand the Dorian mode, but for me it was like decoding the subtle mechanics of falling in love.
I found my passion was playing funk and blues shuffles on drums. Right out of school I started a blues band and we did just that. This was with three of the most creative people I knew. Looking back, one of the interesting things is that we had each (except our singer Ed Moran, who needed no schooling) studied and played jazz, and had a fairly complex understanding of music theory. But rather than exhibit this in the music, we chose to simplify. We found that when you channel that much intensity and passion into a simple structure, the results are fascinating and powerful. I loved that band. I look back on those years like a scene in a movie. Blues music is still my favorite in the world. It’s a misperception that Blues music is sad; a 12 bar shuffle is the most ecstatic music on the planet.
I love music. I dream of it. I’ve had anxiety dreams where I’m playing my drums on a steeply pitched roof, and I’m grabbing at the cymbal stands trying to hold it all together but it keeps falling away from me. Other times I dream I’m listening. Most often though, I mean regularly, I dream that I am music. It’s like I’ve turned into an instrument or receiver, scoring the dream with pulsing, evocative music. I wake up with whole songs, lyrics, chord structure, a groove and bass line in my head, and if I lay still I can keep it going for minutes. In my waking life I have sonic ideas in my head all the time. You know the way people go to the grocery store and get a song stuck in their head? I think we get music lodged in the body. We have to rest up, drink lots of water, somehow hit the reset button to get it clear again. I think good music rings in the ears afterward because your cells get tuned to its vibrations, like little iron shavings to a magnet. I like joyful, expressive, colorful works of art, like those sunflowers by Van Goth. Stuff where the artist is in love with what he or she is doing. I feel it’s the best reason to do anything in this world. If you watch old clips of Art Blakey’s band playing Moanin’ you’ll see what I mean.
My experience with the world of music and musicians is that there are some who can be quite orthodox in their approach. There is a certain way things are done, whether you’re producing a pop record or playing a jazz gig. I still find this surprising. Music is considered a quintessential art form for expressing rebellion, dissent, freedom! I find it curious then, that it attracts a certain amount of people who follow the well worn path of what’s already been done.
It just seems like the artist’s path is so codified these days, especially in music. Reality shows and “rock star” camps teach people how to act like “rock stars.” Am I the only one who finds this cynical and tired? I get the feeling they don’t even believe in it anymore. I think tradition can be a good thing, but I’m astounded at how many people rush to do what’s already been done. It’s just a natural tendency of human consciousness: to follow the well worn path. It takes real effort to do otherwise. Here we are in the new millennium, and all I’m saying is, let’s have the courage to evolve. If you’re attracted to a certain style or a way of life, then fine, go for it. Many of our ideas just float around and recycle anyway. But let’s not deny that authentic self just because we’re afraid it’s “not what people want” or some other sad, misguided reason. I think people always have a thirst for genuine, inspired ideas. I’m just saying let’s keep it real, and be open to possibility. Have you noticed that when Tim Burton and Johnny Depp make a new movie you know it’s going to be quirky and fun? I wish more new music was like that, including and especially pop music.
I love pop music. I like when it’s fresh, and simple. I’m really not that hard to please. Just one good idea and I’m hooked. The problem isn’t bad ideas; we can stand those if they’re sincere; the problem is pandering. They’re programming what they think you want to hear, or what they think the “new sound” is. Nothing good comes from that. It has to be driven by sincerity and inspiration. That’s the only way anything is ever good.
What follows are some thoughts of mine on culture and on this world we find ourselves living in. You can dive in if you like, or just move on and listen.
I was born in the United States of America. From what I can see, this empire is structured in a kind of pyramid scheme of exploitation and brutality, with a fair amount of people in the middle who don’t seem to have the inner resources to treat other feeling beings more kindly than someone treated them. They’ve been dominated and dehumanized, and many can’t wait to get a little power and do the same. If challenged, they will point to others who do it as justification. So it continues. There are official positions and roles in our society, perfectly legal and sanctioned by authority, that virtually guarantee this kind of abuse.
But I think we should remember that exploitation and domination are only one aspect of human nature. We have the ability to express the most beautiful and inspiring aspects, too. Nothing defines human nature more than potential and possibility. Much of our current system appeals to and encourages the worst aspects of human nature, but we always have the choice to unplug. How long will people tolerate blatant corruption, war profiteering, horrific suffering of animals in factory farms and testing labs, the killing of unarmed civilians? I think as long as we are lulled into unconsciousness, silenced by fear and confused by the false authority of empire.
Let us wake up to a truth. Wars are arranged by the ruling class and fought by the working class; common people suffer and die while a small minority reaps obscene profits. One of the hardest things about this is to watch the propagandists and media shills trick people into believing “support” for aggression and outright atrocity makes one patriotic; it is not even remotely patriotic.
We buy into many lies about war, but the first one is that it’s necessary. Don’t get me wrong; I am not a pacifist. I have a warrior spirit and I am angry about injustice. If hostile aggressors land on American soil to murder, exploit, enslave women and murder our children (as the genocidist and war criminal Christopher Columbus did in his well documented atrocities), I will be among the first to get up and fight. The problem, my friends, is that this is happening from the inside. Corporations, war profiteers, transnational banks and the bizarrely corrupt media that serves them are the ones degrading and destroying this nation and the world, not some poor soul living in a hovel in Fallujah. War boils down to a massive and complex enterprise for profit that, in the end, doesn’t even benefit the tiny contingent of super rich who promote it, although they apparently believe it does. It is painful to watch militarism sold as some kind of patriotic adventure when in most cases it is an exercise in atrocity: a sad and unnecessary illusion driven by fear and greed. Our wars are wars of conquest, domination, empire. Is anyone paying attention to this? No one of our nation has died for freedom since the American Revolution. They die for the profit of a tiny minority of war profiteers, the same ones who manufacture the wars. If we really want to “honor our troops” we will wake up to the reality of well meaning and sincere people who’s lives are co-opted by that corrupt system into fighting and killing others who, in most cases, are very much like them. An American man or woman in a US war for profit (the current ruse being “terrorism” as before it was Communism) has more in common with the people he’s fighting than he does with any of the power elite who put him there. The only war worth fighting is one against oppression and injustice. The thing that frustrates me worst is to see people tricked into fighting wars for profit for the very people who have declared war against them, against their moms and dads, their communities. That is true Orwellian tragedy.
It’s just that with our current level of fear and ignorance, social conditioning appears to work. With even moderate pretensions of authority, it is easy to convince people to behave with great cruelty, and the rest to be indifferent and compliant. It’s not hard to see the emotional deformity that drives a serial killer or a rapist, but it is the same emotional deformity that allows Dow Chemical and Monsanto to commit their crimes against your health and against this planet. It’s only the the illusion of false authority that separates them. If we look into history (even our own), governments state and federal have used illegitimate authority driven by economic interests to enforce the worst conditions. It would be naive of us to think this aspect of human nature and of power structures is not alive today; it is; the ruling elite just as convinced of their authority and the false legitimacy of their atrocities as they were during the time of slavery. We tend to think of fascism as a sort of antiquated political movement that flared up in Italy and Germany in the late 1930s; but it is absolutely a pervasive and tragic human quality that is present whenever there is patriarchal authority. No exceptions. That’s just how it is, and the sooner we realize this, that it lives as potential within each of us, the sooner we can achieve some sanity and justice in this world.
In 2003 the United States began the worst and most large scale atrocity of my generation’s lifetime, one that caused and will continue to cause incalculable suffering for all feeling beings on this planet, but especially for the Iraqi people. My suffering on this is nothing; but since this is supposed to be about me I have to say that this was the start of a painful disillusionment with culture and world affairs. It was the the beginning of my realization as an adult that the individuals who could reach the highest levels of power and authority were the most sick and corrupt on the planet, as guilty as any mass murderer in history. It was a realization that authority is in almost all cases corrupt, despotic and false. It is a projection of the authoritarian’s own self-loathing, his distrust of his own nature. These people have ingested without examining the false notion that nature is corrupt and sinful, therefore sex, the body and human nature is corrupt and sinful, and since they unconsciously believe this, they commit atrocities against innocents of all kinds: people, animals and the earth. While war contractors and private security firms reaped obscene profits for themselves, US soldiers tortured prisoners for their entertainment, shot defenseless pets tied in the yards of Iraqi families for sport, and members of the US 101st Airborne Division gang raped a 14 year old Iraqi girl and murdered her and her family, including a five year old child. The war proceeded as horrifically and senselessly as it began, though it quickly became clear that the reasons cited for this unprovoked attack on a sovereign nation, flimsy from the start, were false.
Anyone who cares to look at this and other cases like it will see this is what war does, this is what militarism does. Our former National Security Advisor, Condoleeza Rice, who used deliberate misinformation and scare tactics to sell the public on the international war crime that was “Operation Iraqi Freedom”, the result of which even conservative experts state we are less safe in the world, currently has a book on shelves in stores around the nation with a proud picture of herself on the cover entitled: No Higher Honor. Ms. Rice repeatedly used the phrase “The smoking gun, that could turn into a mushroom cloud.” I found this staggering even as it was happening, it was so empty. The notion that Iraq could attack us in such a way was as ridiculous as it was a lie for her to present it. This occurred along with such a rapacious and open attack on the Earth and the environment and tax cuts for the super rich so blatant and obscene that if there was anything resembling justice in the United States and any interest in same by its legislators, law enforcement agencies or the UN, the cowards and rapists of the Bush administration who perpetrated the Iraq war and committed these crimes of blatant profiteering against the people and against the Earth would be stripped of their illegitimate wealth, sentenced and convicted, and put in prison for the rest of their lives.
There’s much talk these days about the “dumbing down” of our culture. I suppose it’s true, but as much as modern media and education systems may have been successful in dumbing people down, I think a worse effect has been their success in numbing people down. If we allowed ourselves to feel the pain of animals in factory farms, of children dying of hunger, of small farmers losing their family farms while the government subsidizes petrochemicals, weapons and the “agriculture” that makes people fat and sick, of families put out of their homes while corporate thugs hoard more than they could use in a lifetime, if we truly became aware of this at an experiential level, the political changes we’re all talking about would happen in a day. If our species evolves, the people who look back at this time will see it as a strikingly hypocritical one, but they will also recognize it as a cruel one. Cruelty works by consensus in this culture. If many people are doing it with the false mirage of authority, and especially if you can’t see it, as in factory farming, it must not be so bad. It’s so ingrained that often times we just aren’t aware of it. But it’s not true. The most horrifying things go on every day in the name of the average person, and often times without their having a clue about it. We can make choices every day that address these conditions. We can insist on cruelty free products, buy local food; and speak up about the abuses and injustice of empire. We can vote with our wallets: one piece of activism that will certainly get attention.
Cruise ships and their industry, to pick just one example: most of us aren’t aware that they spew massive amounts of raw human sewage (a cruise ship can generate over 20,000 gallons in a day) as well as even more harmful chemicals straight into the beautiful, fragile ocean. This is a staggeringly arrogant and destructive thing to do, a true outrage, and most of us don’t know, don’t care. I do not believe the beautiful fragile ecosystem, the playful dolphins, majestic loggerhead sea turtles, fishes and coral reefs should endure this crime, all for something that is blatant luxury, and all of this when on board treatment facilities and storage for the chemicals are real and available; they would just cost a little more. Again, these sociopathic industries will continue to rape and destroy wholesale until we compel them to stop. If our politicians fail to strictly regulate the cruise ship industry, and they have, then I believe we should choose to boycott them. If we do this and let them know why, they will change.