Several days ago a music teacher at USC named Chris Sampson asked if I was interested in coming to campus and doing a Q&A about music with his students. Luckily, the schedule allowed, and I was able to make it work.
Mr. Sampson started the proceedings, as he does every Friday, by asking any student who had a show or other event to stand up and inform the class. One after another, students announced their band dates, DJ shifts, etc. It was great to find out there was so much activity among them.
Through the questions Mr. Sampson threw to me, I was able to sermonize from my twisted gospel. I told them that I hoped they would never lose any of their curiosity to hear different kinds of music and that if you remain open-minded, you can be an eager freshman for the rest of your life, walking the endless halls of academia, as you go from turn-on to turn-on.
It’s true. There has never been a time of my life since I became a music-therefore-existence type that I wasn’t in deeper than I was the year before. If anything, I’m running at it faster, as it seems to be getting better. (I have also noticed that I’m getting weirder, but that’s OK.)
Thankfully, the class ended. Not for my sake but for theirs. I could have talked to them about music for hours. I don’t know how I could have described how much fun it is to listen to David Bowie fold-down mono singles that were sent out for U.S. radio promo. You see, they were often cut so hot that the mid- and low-range aspects come out swinging quite boldly, and Bowie sounds as if he has Black Sabbath as his band! If you can find one that has radio call letters or handwritten information on it, it was actually used for broadcast, and might just be the exact record that inspired who knows what person to start playing music and … Hey! Wake up!
After meeting many of the students afterward, I went to my car and made the long, traffic-heavy drive back into Hollywood. In the time I had been at USC, a man had shot and killed several students at a community college in Oregon.
When I got back to the office, I read reports listing the statistics on how often a mass killing — a term the FBI defines as involving three or more victims — happens in America. From the incredible frequency of mass shootings and other gun homicides in America, you can draw the conclusion that the inhabitants of the U.S. often use guns to express themselves. That is not an opinion, just the numbers.
What to do? Based on the postings by fellow citizens, who are far more responsive than Congress, the options seem to be: Ban guns; have more stringent laws and more vigorous background checks; arm yourself and prepare to be the gun-toting good guy; stay home and lock your door (and have your gun accessible to protect yourself); or be ready to duck.
The last time I was in Tel Aviv, I was working with a young woman on a film shoot. She had recently finished her compulsory military service. She was funny, smart and extremely intense. She told me about a visit she had made to America. She said that she was amazed that, when she went places, she saw people standing in large groups in front of theaters and in shopping malls.
I asked her what was remarkable about that. She said that in Israel, you avoid any cluster of people, because that is exactly what terrorists are looking for.
This is how she lives her life in her own country. She had no thought of things improving — just a realization of how it is and the smartest way to get through it.
“Humans are high-functioning and fucking dangerous.”
Maybe it’s time to come to grips with how it is in America. I doubt that there is any line of logic that will separate an American from his or her gun. If the weapon was obtained legally, I don’t think there is a conversation to be had. Statistically, the overwhelming majority of gun owners are law-abiding and not part of the problem.
A possible long-term fix would be incredibly expensive and take decades to realize. It would involve more supervision of school-age youth, more care given to those who are mentally ill, and a complete overhaul of the public education system, with an eye to making a safer country by making it smarter. But before these high-minded ideas got more than three paces out of the gate, someone would call it socialism, and it would be over with and we would be back to where we are now.
I think it’s time to cut out the idealistic middleman and deal with what is.
America has had at least since 1865 to get the whole civil rights/equality thing happening, and we still struggle. It’s really not a big intellectual hurdle to understand that all humans are of the same species and, logically, should enjoy total equality and protection under all the laws of the land. Can you face the fact that, as a nation, we’re not that interested in equality? If we were, Bill and Tom could get married without all the pathetic drama, and there would be no racism.
Can you deal with the truth that when the right to bear arms is the second of 27 amendments, and there are more guns than people in America, what is happening now will keep happening? Humans are high-functioning and fucking dangerous. It won’t get “better,” because the American idea of freedom all but annihilates any threat of civil progress.
I would hate to be a parent in present-day America.
Look for your weekly fix from the one and only Henry Rollins right here every Thursday, and come back tomorrow for the awesomely annotated playlist for his Sunday KCRW broadcast.
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