COVID-19, Interpreted Through the Lens of the Flaming Lips, in Cartoon Form

Flaming Lips in 2019 and 2020

I did not draw this cartoon. The source for it is Wayne Coyne’s Instagram account (here), and my guess is that he is the cartoonist. If I’m wrong about that, though, please let me know in a comment.

Holy Saturday with COVID-19 and “Jesus Christ Superstar”

I’m spending this odd, COVID-19-dominated Holy Saturday inside, watching Jesus Christ Superstar. This was actually one of my primary information-sources regarding Christianity before it occurred to me to read the New Testament for myself, in my early twenties. If you’d like to watch it with me, here’s a link to the 1973 film-version, as a YouTube playlist.

The Flaming Lips Meet Calvin and Hobbes: A Music Video for “Love Yer Brain”

The Flaming Lips wrote and recorded this song, and Bill Watterson drew this cartoon of Calvin and his brain. All I did was put the two together.

“Feeling Yourself Disintegrate,” by The Flaming Lips, and the Inevitability of Death

I used to have serious ambitions to achieve immortality, first by having my brain transplanted into a cloned body, and then eventually having the information in my brain uploaded into a computer. Basically, I had a severe case of thanatophobia. The music of The Flaming Lips, and this song in particular, helped me to eventually accept the inevitability of my own death.

A Great Rhombicosidodecahedron Inspired By David Bowie, As Ziggy Stardust

Ziggy's Trunc Icosidodeca

I made this with Stella 4d, which you can try for yourself at this website.

Thank You, Robert Zimmerman

I was born during wartime, and during the first decade of Bob Dylan’s long career. Later that same month, the Tet Offensive began — a major turning point in the Vietnam War. After Tet, the Americans who had been “on the fence” realized that the USA was not going to win that war, and these fence-sitters added their voices to the loud anti-war message already being voiced from the late 1960s counterculture. We took several more years to extricate ourselves from that war, and those years were my formative years.

Early in life, I developed a fascination with the decade of my 1968 birth. The first related thing I studied, in detail, was the music and history of the Beatles. Beatles’ music led me to books about that band, and this added to my reading vocabulary, although, in some cases, my speaking vocabulary lagged behind. This happened with Robert Zimmerman, better known as Bob Dylan, who pops up in many written accounts of the Beatles’ career. In my early teens, I had read many things about a musician with a name that looks like it should be pronounced “Die-lan,” and I had also heard talk about a person with a last name pronounced like that of the actor Matt Dillon. It’s funny now, but I was absolutely mortified when I first realized I had been mispronouncing Dylan’s name, and confusing him with Dillon, the actor. Determined not to repeat such a mistake, I broadened my studies of the counterculture, and educated myself about the real Bob Dylan.

Later, as a senior in high school, I encountered the work of Dylan in another context, when I took AP English. The song lyrics of “Subterranean Homesick Blues” were in our literature textbook. Via YouTube, here is Dylan himself presenting those same lyrics.

I graduated from high school in 1985. Because I read this song, presented as a poem, before actually hearing it, I was prepared to think of Dylan’s work as literature, and not merely as popular music from an earlier decade. When the Nobel Committee selected Dylan for this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature, I was both unsurprised, and pleased. Many have criticized this Nobel selection, but it makes perfect sense. The counterculture of the 1960s has a body of literature, and I’ve read quite a bit of it, such as books by Ken Kesey, John Lennon, and Abbie Hoffman, as well as many other writers. This period of astounding creativity produced a unique body of literature, and the time has definitely come to recognize the best of that literature with a Nobel Prize. I know of no one associated with the counterculture who deserves it more than Dylan.

Back in the pre-Google era, of course, we had to go to considerable trouble to get music — much more so than the few clicks of a mouse it takes today. The reason the Beatles came first, for me, is simply that Beatles albums were among the purchases previously made by my parents. Dylan’s music was not among this collection of records. The Dylan album I had read the most about was Highway 61 Revisited, and that led to a funny conversation with an old friend of mine — a guy named Max. Max was perhaps ten years older than me, and was a music aficionado who prized himself on his knowledge of all things Dylanesque. The first time some friends and I listened to music at Max’s house, I asked him to play Highway 61 Revisited, but that particular record was not in Max’s large music collection. Here’s the title track of that album.

You can now buy every track of this album, as a collection of .mp3 files, for a mere $5 on Amazon, but that was not the case back then.

61

Max ended up going to the local record store (as we called them in the 1980s), and telling the store owner (another old friend) that an 18-year-old kid had asked him to play Highway 61 Revisited, leaving him embarrassed that he didn’t have the requested music available already. The shop owner set him up with a copy, and I (finally!) got to hear it shortly thereafter, for the first time.

Since then, I’ve seen Dylan perform live twice, and I have many friends who are as into Dylan, or more so, than I am. Today, if I post a Facebook status that asks why “the pump don’t work,” one of my friends will answer — “‘Cuz the vandals took the handles” — within mere minutes.

Dylan’s career took many twists and turns, especially during the controversial period when he had been “born again,” as it was put, and he simply refused to perform or record any music which did not express his religious ideas. Many Dylan fans won’t even listen to his music from this period, but I like all the Dylan songs I’ve ever heard. This is my favorite of the songs from that period: “Gotta Serve Somebody.” One need not have any particular religious belief to appreciate a good song.

Dylan himself may not be interested in his Nobel Prize, any more than he knows that I appreciate his work. These things do not affect the fact that he deserves the Nobel, as well as my gratitude. Robert Zimmerman: thank you.

A Music Video: Janis Joplin’s “Mercedes Benz”

“A song of great social and political import” from the 1960s, as well as a fun song for which to make a music video — or sing, a capella, in public, loudly and obnoxiously. =D

A Music Video for “Ride Into the Sun,” by the Velvet Underground

This music video, for a Velvet Underground classic written by Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison and Maureen Tucker, was made today — for a song originally recorded in 1969, the year after I was born. I used Windows Movie Maker to assemble it, and “painted” the preview-pic for the video, using MS-Paint. Other programs I used, for other images in the video, include Geometer’s Sketchpad, MS-Paint (again) and Stella 4d: Polyhedron NavigatorOf all these computer programs, my favorite is Stella 4d, which you may try for free at http://www.software3d.com/Stella.php.

What’s the Worst Thing a Proselytizing-Attack Can Do, Anyway?

control

a self-portrait I painted, in a different decade

This happened near the end of Summer school, about four years ago. I haven’t been able to write about it until now, but my life is now separated into the unknowing part before this day, when I was so often angry without knowing why, and the part after I painfully found the truth which explains this anger. 

The three-second video above was correct — for weeks afterwards, I couldn’t handle the truth, and was having one PTSD attack after another as a result. There was a break between Summer School and the resumption of the normal school year in the Fall, and that’s a good thing, because I had a lot of “repair work” to do before I was fit to be around large numbers of people again.

All of this followed what I refer to as a “proselytizing attack.” The person aggressively proselytizing to me at me was also a teacher, and the only thing he did right was to avoid this activity in the presence of students. In another religion, one inflicted on my family, by my father,  when I was a teenager (Soka Gakkai, a variant of Buddhism), the technique he used is called shakabuku, which translates from the Japanese as “bend and flatten” — although this teacher was, of course, using a Christian version of shakabuku. My entire family was subjected to these efforts to “bend and flatten” us, during my father’s four or so years as a practicing Soka Gakkai member. Many years earlier, before I was born, he had actually been a minister in a certain Protestant Christian denomination. There were many other “religions of the year” my father dragged us to, as I was growing up. If one wishes to raise a skeptic, that method is quite likely to work, but I would hardly call it good parenting.

I tried to politely end these unpleasant after-school conversations, explaining to the other teacher that I only have two ways which work, for me, to gain confidence in ideas: mathematical proof, and the scientific method. What he was looking for was faith, a different form of thinking, and one which is alien to me — my mind simply will not “bend” in such a direction, which helps explain why proselytizing efforts of the “bend and flatten” variety never have the desired effect with me.

Polite efforts to end this rude behavior repeatedly failed. No one else was nearby at the moment I finally snapped — so I could say whatever I wanted to the other teacher, while remaining unheard by others.

“Listen,” I said, “do you really want to know how to get fewer atheists in the world? I can tell you exactly how to do that.”

He said that, yes, of course, he did want to know how to do this.

“Here’s how,” I said. “It’s simple, really. Just tell your fellow Christians to stop raping children!”

He had no reply, for, in the wake of such things as the Catholic Church’s pedophilia scandal, and similar scandals in other churches, there is no satisfactory reply to such a statement. The truth of it is self-evident (provided one does not generalize the statement to encompass all Christians, for that would clearly be false), and the message to stop the “Christian shakabuku” had finally penetrated this other teacher’s mental defenses. I then realized something that explained the intensity of my dislike for this man: he used a voice with a hypnotic quality, a trick my father also used to influence, and manipulate, others. 

I turned around, walked away, and he did not follow. I returned to my classroom, where I had work left to do, such as preparing for the next school day’s lessons, before leaving. I was also acutely aware that I was in far too heightened an emotional state to safely drive. Therefore, to calm down, I played the following song, at maximum volume, on repeat, perhaps a dozen times, scream-singing along with the vocals, as I prepared my classroom for the next day. 

After venting enough fury to be able to safely drive home, I did so . . . and listened to this song some more, along with another song by Muse, the two of which I used to scream myself into exhaustion.

I finally collapsed into sleep, but it wasn’t restful, for I was too angry — for weeks — to ever reach deep sleep. I knew only dark, emerging memories and half-memories, as well as horrific dreams that temporarily turned sleep into a form of torture, rather than a healing process. Not being stupid, I got the therapy I obviously needed, after the proselytizing-attack, and my reaction to it, caused the truth to fall painfully into place. By the time the school year began, I could once again function.

My earliest memory is from age 2 1/2, and involves surviving an attack of a type that often kills infants and young children: shaken baby syndrome. This was described as the “story within the story” told, right here, in the context of Daredevil fan-fiction. It was bad enough when that memory surfaced, but this was even worse. The only “good” thing about what I had learned had been done to me was that it was before age 2 1/2, and, for this reason, could not become a “focused,” clear memory, as my recollection of the near-death-by-shaking is. Instead of sharp memories, I was getting imagery like this . . .

. . . But the intensity of my reaction left me with no doubt about what had happened, at an age when I was too young to defend myself, nor even tell anyone else.

Years later, I even abandoned the term “atheist,” choosing  to simply use “skeptic” instead, a switch which angered far more people — atheists, of course — than I ever expected. I now realize a major reason I made that change, and it’s the fact that I have seen so many obnoxious atheists using “atheistic shakabuku” — and I am, for obvious reasons, hypersensitive to any form of shakabuku, whether it be religious or anti-religious. Humans are not meant to be painfully bent, nor flattened, and I want nothing to do with those who engage in such atrocious behavior. Whether they are religious, or not, no longer matters to me — what does mean something is, rather, their lack of respect for their fellow human beings.

To those who do engage in aggressive proseltyzing, I have only this to say: please stop. Even if you played no part in it, there is no denying that abuse, by religious authority figures, has happened to thousands, perhaps millions, of people — and one cannot know which of us have such traumatic events in our personal backgrounds. For this reason, no one knows what harm proselytizing might do to any given person.

[Note: absolutely none of this happened at my current school.]