An American Twelve Year Memory Loss

In 1956, the year I was born, the world was a much different place than it is today. My generation came into a nuclear-armed world where the possibility of global annihilation rested on the shoulders of opposing powers, Democracy and Communism.

wordmapOr so we were told as we learned to duck and cover under our desks in case of nuclear attack. A mere twelve years before, in 1944, the world still faced Hitler, the Final Solution, and raging war. The end of the war still more than a year, and hundreds of thousands of more deaths, away.

There were no cell phones, websites, or Facebook.

Imagine.

Twelve years later, in 1968, America was being torn apart as much as our military forces were tearing apart the country of Vietnam. The ’68 Tet Offensive, live on TV, brought the war into the American living room as the body count climbed. The military defeat of the Viet Cong lost in the outrage over America’s continued spending of the blood of our young men and women for a failed policy.

Twelve more years pass and, by 1980, Americans were held hostage in Iran, and a new President came into office promising to win their release. What first appeared to be the success of a firm and effective policy later turned out to be political subterfuge.

In 1992, a new chapter dawns. A President takes office who would reopen relations with Vietnam and start the healing process for those who fought there, and then go on national television and lie to the American people. An unnecessary and foolish lie.

Another twelve years, 2004, would find America embroiled once again in an endless war, with no clear goals and no end in sight. A President would commit troops to combat and tell the American people to go shopping.

He would go on to declare “mission accomplished.”

Twelve years later, 2016, the troops were still there. Except, of course, for the ones who’d been wounded or killed after the mission was accomplished.

We also had a new President. In the peculiar institution of our electoral process, more people voted against him than for him but he won the Electoral College.  It gives one pause to consider if we should rethink the accreditation of this college.

Nevertheless, he is the President.

Since taking office, he has shut down the government unless Congress meets his demand for money to build a wall most people agree is an ineffective solution to a complex problem.

And so it goes.

It would seem Americans have an attention span of fewer than twelve years. We repeat the same mistakes, or conveniently forget about them

If I am fortunate enough to enjoy the full extent of my life expectancy, I have two or three more twelve-year cycles to go. Let’s hope we get better at it.

Lessons From Auschwitz-Birkenau

One cannot help but be tormented by the sights of Auschwitz-Birkenau. The sheer size of the complex and the efficiency with which the Nazis exterminated millions is overwhelming. Each of the chimneys in this view are remnants of a barracks that held 4-5 hundred human beings awaiting death.

Emptied and refilled over and over.

The Nazis epitomized all that is wrong with humanity. It is necessary to remind ourselves of the beast within us.

Adolf Hitler killed no Jews.  He used the power of hate, anger, misinformation, and repetition of lies to inspire an entire nation to kill millions of innocent men, women, and children just because they were different. For anyone, anywhere, to emulate the philosophies of the Nazis is the height of ignorance and evil.

To deny the Holocaust is obscene. It is to abandon one’s very soul.

Instead of worrying about football players taking a knee during the National Anthem, we should all be more concerned about the existence of the American Nazi Party and their supporters. Nothing is more unAmerican than such hate.

I defy any rational human being to stand under the gate to Auschwitz, to read the words Arbeit Macht Frei, and not recognize the evil of such philosophies. To stand in a room once filled with human beings stripped of their dignity and realize it was intentionally flooded with poisonous gas by other human beings is to know pure evil.

I stood mere feet from the ovens used to consume the remains of what were once vibrant human beings, all in the cause of purifying the Third Reich. That people holding such philosophies exist today is the worst abomination of humanity. The one thing every American should agree with is there is no place for such hate in our country or anywhere in the world.

It is said that if you desire peace, you should prepare for war. I think a better philosophy is,

If you desire peace, remember the cost of war.

These shoes, taken from a child before he or she was sent to the gas chambers, are a reminder of that cost. They sit alone in front of 40000 pairs found in storage after the Nazis fled the camps. A small reminder of the estimated 16 million pairs taken during the Holocaust.

What potential did we lose with this child’s death?

An Einstein? A Chopin? A Maya Angelou? A Nobel Prize in Medicine?

That is the cost of war and the price of forgetting the past.

At the entrance to one of the barracks in Auschwitz, is the saying by George Santayana “Those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.”

Remember, Hitler did not kill one Jew.  Yet, with mere words, caused millions of deaths for the sake of a lie.

Never Again!

Words to Inspire: Lost in the Past

At his inaugural address, John F Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”

I remember that. Those words inspired me and a generation.

It would seem, since then, those that would inspire us are gone.

LBJ took American service personnel to Vietnam. 56000 never came back. The only words I remember from him are, “I shall not seek…”

In other words, he quit.

Richard Nixon took his place. His most memorable words, “I am not a crook.”

Gerald Ford had a brief run. I cannot remember his words of any note. Perhaps, “Fore…Oops.”

Jimmy Carter followed. Sadly, I cannot think of any words by him worth remembering.

Ronald Reagan came next. The words I recall are, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Not the most inspirational of words.

George Bush the First came next…. drawing a blank on that one.

Then came William Jefferson Clinton. “I did not have sex with that woman.” 

The most memorable words from this President are so disheartening. He sounded like a drunken husband, lipstick on his collar and cheap perfume on his clothes, making excuses to his wife.

George the second came next. It’s hard to find a cohesive written thought by him, let alone words that inspire a nation. Oh wait, “Mission accomplished…” 

Wrong. (to quote another would-be President)

Barrack Obama reignited the concept of an articulate President. His words as the first African American President offered a renewed hope. The hope of positive change as our future.

We almost made it.

And now we face a dilemma.

The next president is going to be one of two people. One whose every word incites scorn and disdain. 

Another who defies explanation. You figure out who is who.

Where has this country gone? A country that once inspired words like, “When in the course of human events…” or “We the people of the United States….” Where has that country gone?  

The best we can offer today is a scowling face that says “Wrong” and “She’s a nasty woman” or a woman who best comeback is “Well Donald, maybe you should ask Bernie Sanders.”

That’s the inspiration for a new era?

I mourn the death of the days of Presidents and those that would-be President who inspired us. I am saddened that the candidates today force us to choose a lesser evil.

I want a candidate that will speak and act in a way that generations will remember, not long for.

Can anybody here find us one of those?

Southwestern Thoughts: Pueblos and Rock Music

Traveling through the Southwest, I was intrigued by the changing landscapes. From the flat desert of Phoenix we climbed into the mountains as we drove to Albuquerque.1668896_orig The mountains, steep and rocky, soon gave way to more gently rolling hills now covered with pine trees instead of cactus.

We were at elevations of six to eight thousand feet and the contrasts to the desert couldn’t be starker.

The beauty of this part of the country is breathtaking. The other obvious element of this area is the influence of Mexico. This is a land where the Spanish influenced language, mixed with the cultural heritage of the Mexican people, blended with the Native culture of the Pueblo people exemplifies the best of the multi-cultural melting part that is America.

It occurred to me that calling for a wall between the United States and Mexico would be an insult to the people of this area. These are people who take pride in their culture yet are more American in their attitude than some would admit.

These are a people who accept their differences as a benefit to the country, not something to be lost or blocked off.

There was a time not long ago when the policy of the government, following on the heels of the Spanish efforts, tried to wipe the native culture of the Pueblos from the face of the earth. They forced the children into Indian Schools where they were force-fed Christianity, English, and European history.

They were forbidden to practice their own religion and cultural traditions.

They were forbidden to speak their own language.

They were forced to abandon their history.

This is the land that gave us the “Wind Talkers” of Navajo fame. Whose exploits in the South Pacific against the Japanese are now legendary. Yet, for years it was concealed because to acknowledge it was to give credence to a culture we did not embrace.

The reason for our trip out here was to attend a Mumford and Sons concert. The music was great if a bit loud (I know, my age is showing.) I was struck by the power of the music to inspire the crowd to dance and sing along.

I have never been one for dancing, yet I was a bit envious of those who let themselves be carried away by the songs. Many let themselves just dance away. Many looked quite natural at it. Some, those who haven’t visited a gym or a salad bar in years, looked almost dangerous but hey, they were dancing.

After the concert, we journeyed to Albuquerque and will continue on to Taos and Santa Fe. Here in Albuquerque, we visited the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. We watched a demonstration of several Native American dances performed by a new generation of Pueblos trying to maintain their cultural heritage.

Many of these dances are performed as part of the Pueblo peoples’ appreciation for the interrelationship of all to the Earth. The animals they hunt, crops they grow, the water they receive as rain are all given due thanks and gratitude.

To the Pueblo, this is their form of devotion to their concept of the creator. Their creation story is no more or less valid than any other. Yet, under the guise of the Christian tradition, we tried to destroy it as a false legend.

It struck me as I watched these young men and women dance, that if people spent less time praying and trying to convince others their beliefs are wrong and more time dancing, be it to a rhythmic chant of an ancient Puebloan rite of harvest or a Mumford and Sons ballad, we’d all be better off.

History and Future: The Window of Lyrics

Music has always been an important part of my life. Serving as a soundtrack, memory anchor, and source of entertainment and inspiration.

christmas-music-notes-border-singing_8355-1

I am always fascinated by the way the human mind works, memory in particular.

Memory is a mystery. I often cannot recall things I did mere moments ago, yet I can recall the lyrics of songs I haven’t heard in decades.

The lyrics of the songs which have most influenced my life seem to lie just below the surface of my conscious brain, waiting for the first few notes of the melody to bring them bursting forth. I wonder if every generation has such memories.

This got me thinking of the lyrics of songs that made it to the top of the charts over the course of my lifetime. Curious if there was some commonality in the lyrics that made them resonate with us.

Looking at these revealed some interesting things.

I wonder if music, along with economics, social attitudes, and incarceration rates, can measure the health of a society.

I think the sixties marked the emergence from the euphoria of the victorious end of WW II and launched a new era.

In 1956, the year I was born, the number 1 hit was Heartbreak Hotel by Elvis Presley. He holds the number 1 and 2 position for that year. I dare say Elvis resonates with many, foreshadowing the shift in American society coming just over the horizon of the 60’s.

In 1960, the number one song was The Twist.

Twist

Come on baby
Let’s do the twist
Come on baby
Let’s do the twist
Take me by my little hand
And go like this

Ee-yah twist
Baby, baby twist
Ooh yeah, just like this
Come on little miss and do the twist

My daddy is sleepin’
And mama ain’t around
Yeah, daddy just sleepin’
And mama ain’t around
We’re gonna twisty twisty twisty
Till we tear the house down

Once again, the opening lines of a change in the air. Still focusing on the pleasures of music and the freedom to let oneself go as you “…twisty twisty twisty. Till we tear the house down.”

The number 2 song of the 1960’s was Hey Jude and number 3 was Theme from a Summer Place. Of these three, it is the melody and lyrics of number 3 that resonate with me.

There’s a summer place
Where it may rain or storm
Yet I’m safe and warm
For within that summer place
Your arms reach out to me
And my heart is free from all care
For it knows…

…And the sweet secret of a summer place
Is that it’s anywhere
When two people share
All their hopes
All their dreams, all their love

The decade of the seventies, an important one for my friends born in 1956, began with one of the most iconic songs of all time.

Bridge over Troubled Water

…When you’re weary, feeling small
When tears are in your eyes, I’ll dry them all (all)
I’m on your side, oh, when times get rough
And friends just can’t be found
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

When you’re down and out
When you’re on the street
When evening falls so hard
I will comfort you
I’ll take your part, oh, when darkness comes
And pain is all around
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

The decade, from my perspective, didn’t end well musically. The number 1 song of 1979 was My Sharona. I had to look up the lyrics. The only part I could remember was the repetitive chorus.

…Never gonna stop, give it up, such a dirty mind
I always get it up, for the touch of the younger kind
My, my, my, aye-aye, whoa!
M-m-m-my Sharona
M-m-m-my Sharona

Hints of the descent into a dismal creative hell. Less elegant lyrics written without heart and soul.

1980, the beginning of the next decade, led off with a mixed bag. The number 1 song was Call Me by Blondie.

Cover me with kisses, baby
Cover me with love
Roll me in designer sheets
I’ll never get enough
Emotions come, I don’t know why
Cover up love’s alibi

Just doesn’t have the same effect as “Like a bridge over troubled water.” There was a hopeful sign with the number 2 song Another Brick in the Wall by Pink Floyd, but by the end of the decade, the descent was out of control.

The number 1 hit of 1989 was Look Away by Chicago. Now I have always loved the music of Chicago, but this was not the same band. Cetera had left the group; the outstanding horn elements were missing. And the lyrics? Once again, I had to look them up.

When you called me up this mornin’
Told me ’bout the new love you found
I said, “I’m happy for you, I’m really happy for you”

Found someone else
I guess I won’t be comin’ ’round
I guess it’s over, baby
It’s really over baby, whoa…

A far cry from Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

By 1998 the demise of civil society was in full, raging rampage. Here are the lyrics to a song from that year. The song is called Ho. If this invokes a Christmas Carole theme in your mind, the words will dispense of it forthwith.

The artist is called Ludacris. And the lyrics? Well, they “speek fo demselfs.”

“Ho”

…You doin ho activities
With ho tendencies
Hos are your friends, hoes are your enemies
With ho energy to do whacha do
Blew whacha blew
Screw whacha screw
Yall professional like DJ Clue, pullin on my coat tail
an why do you think you take a ho to a hotel?
Hotel everybody, even the mayor
Reach up in tha sky for tha hozone laya
Come on playa once a ho always
And hos never close they open like hallways
An heres a ho cake for you whole ho crew
an everybody wants some cuz hoes gotta eat too

Somehow, I don’t see those lyrics inspiring anyone. If they are the soundtrack of the lives of some of our fellow Americans, then perhaps there is something to be learned in the words and melodies of our music history.

Everyone’s taste is different. A style that uplifts one may annoy another. There’s plenty of room in the world for all types of music. Every word written as a part of music doesn’t need to inspire or uplift or even be memorable.

Sometimes, just a catchy tune with simple lyrics is enough.

Yet, when we look at the overall level of literacy and language used within music. When we compare what once filled the musical airways with what came later. We may see something reflective of society.

And we may not like what we see.