In 1848, 29-year-old Walt Whitman was for three months a reporter for
the Daily Crescent in New Orleans, writing fluff pieces about
local color and charm as seen through Yankee eyes.
She's the ultimate quick-change artist, with a style that can absorb any
trend and an image to match. She's gone from material girl to S/M
maitresse, from power diva to contented mother.
In a provocative book published recently in Germany, a Hamburg scholar
named Klaus Briegleb appeared to take on the entire national literary
establishment for indulging in self-censorship of th
Say what you will about oil and hegemony, but the pending invasion of
Iraq is more than just a geopolitical act. It's also the manifestation
of a cultural attitude.
Mary McCarthy would have turned 90 on June 21, a fact that is itself astonishing to those who remember her flagrant youth, when her sharp style made her the most feared and forthright writer in New York.
The country is riven and ailing, with a guns-plus-butter nuttiness in
some of its governing echelons and the sort of lapsed logic implicit in
the collapse of trust in money-center capitalism, which has been an
undergirding theory of a good deal of the work that many people do. The
tallest buildings, real profit centers, fall, as "wogs" and "ragheads"
defy us, perhaps comparably to how the "gooks" in Vietnam did (from
whose example Osama bin Laden may have learned that we could be
defeated). But that was on foreign soil, and we believed that we had
pulled our punches and beaten ourselves, and so remained triumphalist
for the remainder of the twentieth century, as we had been practically
Now we're not so sure. For the first time since the War of 1812 we have
been damaged in continental America by foreigners, having made other
people hate us, though we had never needed to pay attention to such
matters before. Proxies could fight the malcontents for us in places
like Central America, and the Japanese and Germans, would-be conquerors,
had not felt much real animus, becoming close, amicable allies after the
war. Our first World War II hero, Colin Kelly, three days after Pearl
Harbor, flew his B-17 bomber (as media myth had it) in kamikaze fashion
to hit a Japanese cruiser, before the Japanese made a practice of it. To
give your life for your country, like Nathan Hale, is an ideal that's
Obese individually and as a nation, and trying to stall the aging
process, we talk instead of cars and taxes, sports and movies, cancer
and entitlements, but with a half-unmentioned inkling too of what more
ominously may be in store--a premonition that our righteous confidence
might have served us just a bit too well. We never agonized a lot about
killing off the Indians, or our slaving history either, once that was
over, or being the only nuclear power ever to incinerate multitudes of
people. We've hardly seemed to notice when free enterprise segues into
simple greed, because our religious beginnings countenanced rapacity, as
long as you tithed. Settling the seaboard in official belts of piety,
whether Puritan, Anglican, Quaker or Dutch Reformed (only the frontier
tended to be atheistic), we seized land and water with abandon, joined
by Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists and what have you, westward ho. Each
group encouraged its rich men to creep like a camel through the eye of
the needle, and political freedoms were gradually canted away from the
pure ballot box toward influence-buying.
We swallowed all of that because the New World dream envisioned
everybody working hard and getting fairly rich, except when undertows of
doubt pervaded our prosperity, as in the 1930s and 1960s; or now when,
feeling gridlocked, we wonder if we haven't gone too far and used the
whole place up. We seem to need some kind of condom invented just for
greed--a latex sac where spasms of that particular vice can be
ejaculated, captured and contained. Like lust, it's not going to go
away. Nor will Monopoly games do the trick, any more than pornographic
videos erase impulses that might result in harm. The old phrase patrons
of prostitutes used to use--"getting your ashes hauled"--said it pretty
well, and if we could persuade people to think of greed, as well, that
way and expel its destructiveness perhaps into a computer screen,
trapping the piggishness in cyberspace might save a bit of Earth. The
greediest guys would not be satisfied, but greed might be looked on as
Some vertigo or "near death" experience of global warming may be
required to trip the necessary degree of alarm. The droughts and water
wars, a polar meltdown and pelagic crisis--too much saltwater and
insufficient fresh. In the meantime, dried-up high plains agriculture
and Sunbelt golf greens in the Republicans' heartlands will help because
African famines are never enough. We need a surge of altruism, artesian
decency. The oddity of greed nowadays is that it is so often solo--in
the service of one ego--not ducal or kingly, as the apparatus of an
unjust state. Overweening possession, such as McMansions and so on, will
be loony in the century we are entering upon--ecologically,
economically, morally, commonsensically. But how will we realize this,
short of disastrous procrastination? Hurricanes and centrifugal violence
on the home front, not to mention angry Arabs flying into the World
Trade Center? That astounded us: both the anger and the technological
savvy. These camel-herding primitives whom we had manipulated, fleeced,
romanticized and patronized for generations, while pumping out their oil
and bottling them up in monarchies and emirates that we cultivated and
maintained, while jeering at them with casual racism in the meantime,
when we thought of it, for not having democracies like ours. To discover
that satellite TV, the Internet and some subversive preaching should
suddenly provide them access to divergent opinions disconcerts if it
doesn't frighten us, as does their willingness to counterpose
rudimentary suicide missions to the helicopter gunships and F-16s we
provide the Israelis. "Don't they value life?"
They won't be the last. The Vietcong were as culturally different from
the Palestinians as we are and yet succeeded in winning a country for
themselves, at a tremendous but bearable cost, which the Palestinians
will also undoubtedly do. Self-sacrifice can be a match for weaponry,
not because the Americans or Israelis value Asian or Arab life--at key
junctures and for essentially racist reasons they have not--but because
of the value they place on their own citizenry. As many as fifty
Vietnamese lives were lost for every American's, but that was not a high
enough ratio for us, even though, unlike some Israelis, we don't ascribe
to ourselves a biblical imprimatur. So we let them have their land, and
the domino calamities that had been famously predicted did not result.
To equate our own revolution with anybody else's is quite offensive to
us. Mostly, in fact, we prefer to forget that we had a revolutionary
past and kicked thousands of wealthy Tories into Canada, seizing their
property. We were slow to condemn apartheid in South Africa, having
scarcely finished abolishing our own at the time, and have been slow in
general to support self-governance in the warmer climates or to
acknowledge suffering among people whose skins are beiger than ours. And
if our income per capita is sixty or eighty times theirs, that doesn't
strike us as strange. We are a bootstrap country, after all. They should
pay us heed. And the whole United Nations is "a cesspool," according to
a recent New York City mayor.
But primitive notions like those of Ed Koch invite a primitive response.
And box-cutters in the hands of Taliban fundamentalists are not our main
problem. We have gratuitously destroyed so much of nature that the
Taliban's smashing up of Buddhist statues, as comparative vandalism,
will someday seem quite minuscule. We have also denatured our own
nominal religions: that is, taken the bite of authenticity out of
Christianity, for instance. Our real problem, I think, is a centrifugal
disorientation and disbelief. There is a cost to cynicism (as in our
previous activities in Afghanistan), and the systematic demonizing of
communitarianism during the cold war made it harder afterward for us to
reject as perverse the double-talking profiteering implicit in phenomena
like Enron, when we had thought that anything was better than collective
regulation and planning.
But ceasing to believe in revolutionary democracy--whether of the
secular or Christian (or Emersonian) variety--has proven costly. A
decent regard for the welfare of other people, in international as well
as local life, is going to be more than just a matter of private virtue.
In a shrinking world it may be a survival tool. Fanaticism doesn't carry
as far unless catastrophic economic conditions lurk in the background,
as we learned in the case of Germany between the two world wars but
then, when non-Caucasians were involved, forgot. Our foreign aid budget,
once the cold war ended, collapsed into spectacular stinginess, and our
sole response to September 11 has been police work. This can probably
erase Al Qaeda--which became after its instant victory that one morning
quite superfluous anyway--but not the knowledge of our vulnerability to
any handful of smart and angry plotters in this technological age. We
might see an explosion of those.
Our national self-absorption (in which the focus seems more on trying to
stay young than helping the young) may give capitalism a bad name.
Simple hedonism and materialism was not the point of crossing the ocean.
Our revolution was better than that. It was to paint the world anew.
Southern Exposure, which somehow looks--even in its third decade,
in the twenty-first century--as if very advanced high school students
had just stapled it together and put it on your doorstep (that's a
compliment...The Nation strives for that effect, too), is still
doing a fine job on its old beat: investigating the strange mix of
culture and corporatism that has made the South what it is today. By
extension, every issue poses the same basic question: What exactly is
America? In looking at the South in great detail over many decades,
Southern Exposure has begun to propose, although not explicitly,
First, America is a place that advocates equality but thrives on
inequality. In the 2002 Spring and Summer issue, which is subtitled "The
South at War," James Maycock has published a piece on the black American
soldier's experience in Vietnam--especially for people who did not live
through the civil rights movement and that terrible Southeast Asian
conflict, this piece will be riveting. "I'm not a draft evader,"
declares one African-American draftee on reaching Canada. "I'm a runaway
America is also a place where the Marlboro Man has not abdicated, as
Stan Goff shows in his gonzo essay on Vietnam and American masculinity
(in fact, it has crossed my mind that all those ads may have been psy-ops prep for George W. Bush's ascendancy). And last, America is a
place that loves the Army. In its useful and unassailable roundup on the
Southern states and the war industry, Southern Exposure comes up
with important facts. The dollar amount of military contracts to Florida
companies alone last year amounted to $15.2 billion. The military, of
course, is a good place to have your money right now. For example,
Florida's education budget was slashed by 4.2 percent last year while
the stock of Northrop Grumman and Raytheon, two of the largest companies
with investments in Florida, were up 25 percent and 40 percent,
respectively. Nutshell portraits of thirteen states provide a real sense
of the give and take between politicians, the military and the job
market, and population in places where the military chooses to spend.
Note also: Of the top twenty-one cities involved in military production
in 2001, excepting Hartford, St. Louis, Indianapolis and Seattle, every
city on the list is in the South or in California. According to
Southern Exposure, 66 percent of the weapons sold to Israel under
the Foreign Military Sales program were produced in the South. The South
has helped situate America in the world today; that puts it in a unique
moral position. But after reading this issue of Southern
Exposure, one really wonders: Do most Southerners care?
After reading about B-29s and F-16s and macho men and Hellfire
missiles made in Orlando--of all places--I was happy to read a few
magazines that go to other extremes. Of the two big yoga magazines
available on the newsstand, Yoga Journal is the yogis' Vanity
Fair, and Yoga International is their Real Simple. We
can dispense with the latter except for the pretzel-position pictures,
but Yoga Journal is a very good niche magazine--good niche
publications take their subject and use it expansively, as a jumping-off
point. The June issue has an excellent and anthropologically important
piece by Marina Budhos on how yoga practice in the West, especially
among Americans, is changing the age-old practice in India, the
Americans behaving like cargo cultists in reverse.
Budhos found that many of the Indians in an Indian ashram (where, by the
way, the hatha yoga teacher was "a really tough Israeli") were attending
because they "were interested in teaching yoga as a career." Many of the
foreigners were simply having yoga fun on vacation--although, as I have
discovered while doing the tortoise position, the word "yoga" and the
word "fun" should never be used in the same sentence. Daniel Ghosal, an
Indian-American, says the Americans who come to India for yoga are seen
by the Indians as "kind of 'cracked.'" Indians don't think of yoga as a
social trend. "The lighting of candles and all that," Ghosal says
dismissively. "To Indians, it's just yoga."
"The Path of the Peaceful Warrior," by Anne Cushman, is also an amusing
piece. In it--after lighting a fire with newspapers in which she sees
headlines about terror and anthrax burning away, and after "folding into
the silence and surrender of a deep forward bend" (that's classic yoga
writing; you just have to push past it)--Cushman proposes a "Yogic
Battle Plan for the War on Terror." I suppose it's better than beefing
up your naval program at Newport News...
The first step: "Stop." I like that. That should be the entirety of an
Op-Ed piece on the Middle East crisis.
There is also "Contemplate death." Under that weighty heading, Cushman
includes this nice aperçu: "The American government's
instruction to 'Be on high alert, yet go about your ordinary life' may
have struck many people as all but impossible, but that paradoxical
injunction is actually...a core yogic practice." (Don't tell Rumsfeld!)
Under "Look Deeply," Cushman cites Tricycle editor James
Shaheen's remark that bin Laden was "inadvertently speaking the Buddhist
truth of interdependence when he said, 'Until there is peace in the
Middle East, there will be no peace for Americans at home.'" "Practice
nonviolence" is another step in the yogic battle; "take action," the
last. By the end, Yoga Journal is beginning to sound like the
editors of Southern Exposure.
Earthtimes, the monthly environmental and social paper
spiritedly edited for twelve years by the effervescent Pranay Gupte, is
folding up shop after July for lack of funding. As Gupte said in a
farewell note to colleagues: "Undercapitalization is always bad for
business; zero capitalization is worse. Since my basement press is
beyond repair, I can't even print rupee notes any longer to sustain
Earthtimes." That's Gupte and the tone of Earthtimes,
too--in moments of pain and crisis, a quiet, self-deflating, sustaining
Dread ripples through me as I listen to a phone message from our manager
saying that we (The Doors) have another offer of huge amounts of money
if we would just allow one of our songs to be used as the background for
a commercial. They don't give up! I guess it's hard to imagine that
everybody doesn't have a price. Maybe 'cause, as the cement heads try to
pave the entire world, they're paving their inner world as well. No
imagination left upstairs.
Apple Computer called on a Tuesday--they already had the audacity to
spend money to cut "When the Music's Over" into an ad for their new cube
computer software. They want to air it the next weekend, and will give
us a million and a half dollars! A MILLION AND A HALF DOLLARS! Apple is
a pretty hip company...we use computers.... Dammit! Why did Jim (Morrison) have to have such integrity?
I'm pretty clear that we shouldn't do it. We don't need the money. But I
get such pressure from one particular bandmate (the one who wears
glasses and plays keyboards).
"Commercials will give us more exposure," he says. I ask him, "so you're
not for it because of the money?" He says "no," but his first
question is always "how much?" when we get one of these offers, and he
always says he's for it. He never suggests we play Robin Hood, either.
If I learned anything from Jim, it's respect for what we created. I have
to pass. Thank God, back in 1965 Jim said we should split everything,
and everyone has veto power. Of course, every time I pass, they double
It all started in 1967, when Buick proffered $75,000 to use "Light My
Fire" to hawk its new hot little offering--the Opel. As the story
goes--which everyone knows who's read my autobiography or seen Oliver
Stone's movie--Ray, Robby and John (that's me) OK'd it, while Jim was
out of town. He came back and went nuts. And it wasn't even his song
(Robby primarily having penned "LMF")! In retrospect, his calling up
Buick and saying that if they aired the ad, he'd smash an Opel on
television with a sledgehammer was fantastic! I guess that's one of the
reasons I miss the guy.
It actually all really started back in '65, when we were a garage
band and Jim suggested sharing all the songwriting credits and money.
Since he didn't play an instrument--literally couldn't play one chord on
piano or guitar, but had lyrics and melodies coming out of his ears--the
communal pot idea felt like a love-in. Just so no one got too
weird, he tagged that veto thought on. Democracy in action...only
sometimes avenues between "Doors" seem clogged with bureaucratic BS. In
the past ten years it's definitely intensified...maybe we need a third
party. What was that original intent? Liberty and justice for all
songs...and the pursuit of happiness.... What is happiness? More money?
More fame? The Vietnamese believe that you're born with happiness; you
don't have to pursue it. We tried to bomb that out of them back in my
youth. From the looks of things, we might have succeeded.
This is sounding pretty depressing, John; where are you going here? The
whole world is hopefully heading toward democracy. That's a good thing,
John.... Oh, yeah: the greed gene. Vaclav Havel had it right when he
took over as president of Czechoslovakia, after the fall of Communism.
He said, "We're not going to rush into this too quickly, because I don't
know if there's that much difference between KGB and IBM."
Whoa! Here comes another one: "Dear John Densmore, this letter is an
offer of up to one million dollars for your celebrity endorsement of our
product. We have the best weight loss, diet and exercise program, far
better than anything on the market. The problem is the celebrity must be
overweight. Then the celebrity must use our product for four weeks,
which will take off up to 20 pounds of their excess body fat. If your
endorsement works in the focus group tests, you will immediately get
$10,000.00 up front and more money will start rolling in every month
after that--up to a million dollars or more." Wow! Let's see...I've
weighed 130 pounds for thirty-five years--since my 20s...I'll have to
gain quite a bit...sort of like a De Niro thing...he gained fifty pounds for Raging Bull--and won an Oscar! I'm an artist, too, like him...
We used to build our cities and towns around churches. Now banks are at
the centers of our densely populated areas. I know, it's the 1990s....
No, John, it's the new millennium, you dinosaur. Rock dinosaur, that is.
My hair isn't as long as it used to be. I don't smoke much weed anymore,
and I even have a small bald spot. The dollar is almighty, and
ads are kool, as cool as the coolest rock videos.
Why did Jim have to say we were "erotic politicians"? If I had been the
drummer for the Grassroots, it probably wouldn't have cut me to the core
when I heard John Lennon's "Revolution" selling tennis shoes...and
Nikes, to boot! That song was the soundtrack to part of my youth, when
the streets were filled with passionate citizens expressing their First
Amendment right to free speech. Hey...the streets are filled again! Or
were, before 9/11. And they're protesting what I'm trying to wax on and
on about here. Corporate greed! Maybe I should stick to music. I guess
that's why I hit the streets with Bonnie Raitt during the 1996
Democratic National Convention. We serenaded the troops. Bob Hope did it
during World War II, only our troops are those dressed in baggy Bermuda
shorts, sporting dreadlocks. Some have the shaved Army look, but they're
always ready to fight against the Orwellian nightmare. A woman activist
friend of mine said that with the networking of the Net, what's bubbling
under this brave new world will make the '60s unrest look like peanuts.
I don't want "Anarchy, Now," a worn-out hippie phrase, but I would like
to see a middle class again in this country.
Europe seems saner right now. They are more green than us. They're
paranoid about our genetically altered food and they're trying to make
NATO a little more independent in case we get too zealous in our
policing of the globe. When The Doors made their first jaunt from the
colonies to perform in the mother country back in '67, the record
companies seemed a little saner, too. The retailers in England could
order only what they thought they could sell; no returns to the
manufacturers. That eliminated the tremendous hype that this country
still produces, creating a buzz of "double platinum" sales, and then
having half of the CDs returned. Today, there is a time limit of three
to six months for the rackjobbers to get those duds back to the company.
Our band used to be on a small folk label. Judy Collins, Love and the
Butterfield Blues Band were our Elektra labelmates. We could call up the
president, Jac Holzman, and have a chat...and this was before we
made it. Well, Jac sold out for $10 million back in '70, and we were now
owned by a corporation. Actually, today just five corps own almost the
entire record business, where numbers are the bottom line. At
least we aren't on the one owned by Seagram's! Wait a minute...maybe
we'd get free booze...probably not. Advances are always
recoupable, booze probably is too.
Those impeccable English artists are falling prey as well. Pete
Townshend keeps fooling us again, selling Who songs to yuppies hungry
for SUVs. I hope Sting has given those Shaman chiefs he hangs out with
from the rainforest a ride in the back of that Jag he's advertising,
'cause as beautiful as the burlwood interiors are, the car--named after
an animal possibly facing extinction--is a gas guzzler. If you knew me
back in the '60s, you might say that this rant--I mean, piece--now has a
self-righteous ring to it, me having had the name Jaguar John back then.
I had the first XJ-6 when they came out, long before the car became
popular with accountants. That's when I sold it for a Rolls
Royce-looking Jag, the Mark IV, a super gas guzzler. That was back when
the first whiffs of rock stardom furled up my nose. Hopefully, I've
learned something since those heady times, like: "What good is a used-up
world?" Plus, it's not a given that one should do commercials for the
products one uses. The Brits might bust me here, having heard "Riders on
the Storm" during the '70s (in Britain only) pushing tires for their
roadsters, but our singer's ghost brought me to my senses and I gave my
portion to charity. I still don't think the Polish member of our
band has learned the lesson of the Opel, but I am now adamant that three
commercials and we're out of our singer's respect. "Jim's dead!" our
piano player responds to this line of thought. That is precisely
why we should resist, in my opinion. The late, transcendental George
Harrison had something to say about this issue. The Beatles "could have
made millions of extra dollars [doing commercials], but we thought it
would belittle our image or our songs," he said. "It would be real handy
if we could talk to John [Lennon]...because that quarter of us is
gone...and yet it isn't, because Yoko's there, Beatling more than ever."
Was he talking about the Nike ad, or John and Yoko's nude album cover
shot now selling vodka?
Actually, it was John and Yoko who inspired me to start a 10 percent
tithe, way back in the early '80s. In the Playboy interview, John
mentioned that they were doing the old tradition, and it stuck in my
mind. If everybody gave 10 percent, this world might recapture a
bit of balance. According to my calculations, as one gets up into the
multi category, you up the ante. Last year I nervously committed to 15
percent, and that old feeling rose again: the greed gene. When you get
to multi-multi, you should give away half every year. Excuse me, Mr.
Gates, but the concept of billionaire is obscene. I know you give a lot
away, and it's easy for me to mouth off, but I do know something about
it. During the Oliver Stone film on our band, the record royalties
tripled, and as I wrote those 10 percent checks, my hand was shaking.
Why? It only meant that I was making much more for myself. It was the
hand of greed. I am reminded of the sound of greed, trying to talk me
into not vetoing a Doors song for a cigarette ad in Japan.
"It's the only way to get a hit over there, John. They love commercials.
It's the new thing!"
"What about encouraging kids to smoke, Ray?"
"You always have to be PC, don't you, John?" I stuck to my guns and
vetoed the offer, thinking about the karma if we did it. Manzarek has
recently been battling stomach ulcers. So muster up courage, you
capitalists; hoarding hurts the system--inner as well as outer.
So it's been a lonely road resisting the chants of the rising
solicitations: "Everybody has a price, don't they?" Every time we (or I)
resist, they up the ante. An Internet company recently offered three
mil for "Break on Through." Jim's "pal" (as he portrays himself in
his bio) said yes, and Robby joined me in a resounding no! "We'll give
them another half mil, and throw in a computer!" the prez of Apple
pleaded late one night.
Robby stepped up to the plate again the other day, and I was very
pleased that he's been a longtime friend. I was trying to get through to
our ivory tinkler, with the rap that playing Robin Hood is fun, but the
"bottom line" is that our songs have a higher purpose, like keeping the
integrity of their original meaning for our fans. "Many kids have said
to me that 'Light My Fire,' for example, was playing when they first
made love, or were fighting in Nam, or got high--pivotal moments in
their lives." Robby jumped in. "If we're only one of two or three groups
who don't do commercials, that will help the value of our songs in the
long run. The publishing will suffer a little, but we should be proud of
our stance." Then Robby hit a home run. "When I heard from one fan that
our songs saved him from committing suicide, I realized, that's it--we
can't sell off these songs."
So, in the spirit of the Bob Dylan line, "Money doesn't talk, it
swears," we have been manipulated, begged, extorted and bribed to make a
pact with the devil. While I was writing this article, Toyota Holland
went over the line and did it for us. They took the opening
melodic lines of "Light My Fire" to sell their cars. We've called up
attorneys in the Netherlands to chase them down, but in the meantime,
folks in Amsterdam think we sold out. Jim loved Amsterdam.
How their wealth and power threaten democracy