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MOMENT OF TRUTH

Posted by Alexander Jerri

Welcome to the Moment of Truth, the thirst that is the drink.

Over twenty years ago, I started a project I’m still working on, documenting the life and work of an artist, Resh Shaprudhi, who used iconography around the god from the purana literature of what is now Hinduism, the god called Ganesh, or Ganapathi, or Vinayaka, or any number of other names, to explore the nature of oppression. Part of Resh Shaprudhi’s mythos is how and why Ganesh enters the events of the European genocide of WWII, often known as the Holocaust, and how through Ganesh’s intervention, the God of the Jews and the gods of the Hindus agree to bestow moksha upon the impoverished and oppressed. Moksha is the release of the soul from the cycle of metempsychosis, or reincarnation. It’s considered a good thing, to be released from that cycle.

If you’re not familiar with Ganesh, he’s the chunky god with the head of an elephant. He’s really easy to pick out of a crowd. A big part Resh Shaprudhi’s work involved syncretically assembling images, language, and symbols from Hinduism, Judaism, and the European genocide in World War II. So a lot of the art created by Shaprudhi involves Ganesh appearing in scenes of Nazi labor and death camps.

Coincidentally, about a decade-and-a-half after I started working on the Resh Shaprudhi project, an Australian play was touring the world called, “Ganesh Versus the Third Reich,” created by Back to Back theater company. The conceit was this: a theater company is in the process of putting together a stage play about Ganesh coming to Earth to recapture the swastika from the Nazis, who’d misappropriated it. I’m not sure if I was ever in a position to see this work. 2013, the year it toured, was also the year I was in India on the set of a movie, and after the shoot traveling through India, Thailand, and Laos.

Recently I decided to go back into the project, and encountered some clippings on the Back to Back play. I was barely familiar with the company’s esthetic, which is political, experimental, and purposely provocative. The theater company to which I claim membership, Theater Oobleck, boasted a similar esthetic back then. It may still, I don’t know. I know we considered art to be less interesting if it didn’t in some way transgress the everyday.

Back to Back is a company the majority of whose membership are disabled, “intellectually disabled” to quote from a New York Times review of the Ganesh play, the reviewer himself quoting from the script. Far be it from me to tell people how to refer to themselves, but having explored their website, I personally don’t see them as intellectually disabled at all. I might argue they’re behaviorally disabled, in that they evince artifacts of behavior outside the norms of what we consider businesslike society.

The genius of what they’ve done throughout their years of work is create situations, albeit theatrical situations, in which their disabilities are integral to the behavior expected or required. They are excellent actors, incidentally. They know their lines. They inhabit the emotions their characters are meant to be experiencing. They are highly skilled.

Now, I know many people, including myself, upon hearing that someone is an actor, immediately assume they suffer from an intellectual disability. It would seem to be in the job description.

Even as a sometimes-actor myself, I’ve made this assumption. I think this is more a symptom of our faulty definitions of intellectual ability. Just this week, I had coffee with a man who is without a doubt a certified accomplished intellectual, and I can say with almost perfect certainty that few have been as disabled by their intellectualism as he has. Everyone around us overheard his opinions, arrived at through careful study and analysis, and had we been armed with cream pies that man would have drowned within the hour.

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with political activism, political discourse, and political thinking. I’ve had more of a love-love relationship with political theater, though not an unconditional love-love. What I love about the politics of Back to Back is that only in art can they display both their disabilities and abilities while opening for examination the drama of discrimination and oppression people labeled “disabled” experience.

I once used to think quite highly of myself as a theater-maker. Now I’m much more comfortable questioning my reasons for making a public display of myself, my beliefs, and my abilities. As I watch the entire world waving their dicks and tits and asses around in their TikToks and such, my former behavior makes me a little sick. But I’m able to cut myself some slack, give myself the benefit of the doubt, in retrospect. Back to Back seems only to have time for doubt insofar as it represents an aspect of life to be explored, not as an activity in which to indulge.

One member of the Back to Back company, Scott Price, conducted a series of interviews on art and provocation over the year 2016. The interviews are online on YouTube, also accessible at the Back to Back website, and are entertaining and edifying to watch. The whole site is well worth exploring. Some of it is mind-blowing:

https://backtobacktheatre.com/about/performance-awards-history/

They’ve made a thirty-minute movie called “Oddlands” that I would be keen to see, if anyone gets word of it being screened or streamed anywhere.

Back to Back answers so many of my questions about why making art of any kind is an important pursuit, even in the current period where everyone and their auntie is bidding for a place in the spectacle. I’m impressed that they continue to produce work. I’m impressed that Australia, on the surface merely a factory for drunken fascism and venomous wildlife, could have incubated, birthed, and sustained a troupe of artists such as this. I don’t want to say it gives me hope for the future. We’re in the future now, so we all know better than to rely on hope.

This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!


Posted by Alexander Jerri

Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.

There are more white people living in poverty in the USA than any other ethnic group. Not exactly, though. About 67-70% of people living in poverty are white, but that includes white people of Latino, Latina, LatinX identification. Somewhere between 34 to 40 million people live below the poverty line in the USA, and even just non-Latin white people still make up a whopping 40% of those living in poverty.

Steven Pinker, the famous popular writer of questionable brain-candy books, tends to rejigger all the figures he uses – inflating, or at best leaning toward the largest estimates of populations living in violence and poverty in past times, while both theoretically minimizing and leaning toward the minimal numbers of current rates of violence and poverty in order to prove his point that human history represents a trend of progress in material existence for all people.

So forgive me for being a little squishy while using the figures I’ve given above, but as I do so, I’ll be transparent about the process. White folk of northern extraction make up 40% of the impoverished in the US. 40%. That’s almost 50%. That’s roughly their percentage of the entire US population as a whole, give or take. There are about 40 million people in the USA living below the poverty line, and the poverty line is widely acknowledged to be a laughable gauge of what constitutes poverty, constructed as it is by people who aren’t poor. So there’s probably more poor people than official definitions indicate.

I’m going to suggest, with a Pinkeresque fungibility of reported statistics, that about 70 million people in the USA, about 20% of the population, are poor, including the functionally poor, which means people who have to pay half or more of their income for shelter, who opt out of necessary visits to health professionals for lack of funds, who have trouble affording healthy food, who have no choice but to work more than one fulltime job, or work one fulltime job that sucks, who have to work gig jobs but think they’re not poor because they sell their homemade jewelry on Etsy on the side, who go without medication, have severely limited if any time to themselves, or are burdened by snowballing debt due to predatory lending or predatory credit or a punitive civic system of fines.

Easily one in five people in the wealthiest military and financial empire in history is poor. They are vulnerable to being coerced into working unsafe and unfairly compensated jobs, vulnerable to being swayed by propaganda that says they’re better off than they actually are, vulnerable to being manipulated to disregard or even denounce class-consciousness that would lead to solidarity, in favor of accepting narratives that pit them against those with whom they have for the most part common grievances.

Let’s call that latter stuff the Pinker propaganda, although he’s not necessarily the origin of it, nor is he its sole or most clever practitioner. There’s a big surge of optimism right now because Beyoncé is wearing the Tiffany diamond that was dug up by black miners in South Africa and stolen from them within minutes. There’s also something related to that story about a Basquiat painting and some millions of dollars for Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Some of the same people who adulate this as a significant step forward—and it is, for representation of black people among the very wealthy and self-congratulatorily philanthropic—the same people will also wax frustrated that black people in the USA don’t seem to have liberated themselves from the racist system of economic and authoritarian oppression.

Welcome to the world where the rich are held up as a great example, but the poor keep getting shafted. And if you’re shafted, there’s nothing wrong with you that a role model can’t fix.

You’re just relatively new at this, People of Color. Don’t worry, you’ll soon be happy just worshiping the wealthy people you think you could be someday with enough hard work, and all that cognitive dissonance will fade into the past.

Hey, that does sound like progress, doesn’t it?

I could say Beyoncé has joined the ranks of the Pinkers. And why not? Malcolm Gladwell’s a Pinker, and he’s black. There’s no rule that you can’t be both black and a Pinker!

What do Pinkers get out of their self-congratulations, exaggerations, half-truths, and Pollyannaism? It’s not difficult to see that they either imagine they gain something or actually gain something, because they go to such efforts to flog the narrative that civilization is at least on a path, however slow, to improvement for everyone.

The scientific data and observable evidence is that the Earth’s temperature is increasing, which will continue to increase the number and severity of catastrophic weather events, hinder food production, create forced migration and geo-political strife. That should go a long way toward negating the fairytale of an ever-ennobling humanity.

But maybe the Pinkers are those members of the bourgeoisies who are simply comfortable, and want to believe that, in the long run, their comfort doesn’t come at the expense of the dignified survival of others. No one need question whether their comfort is justified, because, in the fullness of time, life is getting better and better. No need to point to the class forces creating rape slaves and wage slaves, homelessness, capitalist violence, imperial commandeering of the resources of the Earth. Most of humanity is doing pretty well, and each year more and more become members of that majority. Have some patience, silly. Yes, injustice is terrible, and you should dance and sing about subverting it, but it obviously takes many centuries to improve conditions. We’re all doing the best we can.

And Beyoncé gets to be the first black woman to wear what looks like a crystal of solidified urine.

Well, as forests burn, the atmosphere’s CO2 content increases, species die off at a rate unprecedented since that last great extinction of sixty-five million years ago, and arable land along with forests and oceanic carbon sinks shrivel to nothing, the cheery outlook of the comfortable grows less and less persuasive.

Meanwhile, I’m pushing opposite propaganda. I don’t think conditions are getting better and better with each succeeding century. Some things are getting better. A vastly greater percentage of people are literate. But a vastly greater percentage of people now have access to misleading information and plain old attractive lies, so it’s entirely possible that whatever was good about increased literacy is annihilated by the crap information people are consuming.

I must be getting something out of peddling my doomsday scenario. Right? Why am I pushing my interpretation of history? Why do I think my spin on the fate of humanity is even worth sharing? I’m not making big bucks from it. I don’t get to wear an amulet of crystallized pee because of it. I’m not easing my mind, justifying my comfortable existence, unless you think being convinced the human world, best case scenario, soon will be firmly in one of its most tragic phases ever is somehow “comfortable.”

I guess, despite the fact that humanity is on a downward arc these days, these doofus days, these trash fire days, despite the fact that humans are the buffoons of the cosmos, as uncomfortable as it is to admit it, I am human. And lying to myself and to you about our current conditions would make me feel not human. Why is feeling human important to me? I don’t know. Maybe it makes me comfortable to feel part of this species, even a disdaining, finger-wagging, pitying, angry part. Maybe I just need to feel like I belong. Maybe I’m just another brand of Pinker.

The fact is, though, we’re in for a hell of a turd storm in the coming decades, and we brought it on ourselves. Pinkers notwithstanding. Pinkers are in for an unpleasant surprise if they think humans are going to get us out of this mess before there’s a whole lot of suffering.

Pinkers should join us humans and get prepared for the worst, or at least support the efforts at fighting the system of normalized selfish wealth accumulation and materialistic growth that keeps us going down the tubes. But perhaps that is not in their nature. Perhaps one’s soul transforms in some horrible way when one becomes a Pinker.

This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!


Posted by Alexander Jerri

Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.

Up here in Antrim County, MI, there’s a rumor afoot that the founder of the Friske family orchards was a real live runaway Nazi. Well, not really a rumor at this point. He was a pilot for Hitler’s Luftwaffe.

But for a long time, it’s said, he used to refer to himself merely as a WWII veteran. Maybe to avoid the bad association some folks have with those who fought on behalf of the Third Reich. And I don’t blame the guy for concealing it. US citizens – those who call themselves “Americans”—are a bigoted bunch. There was a time when resentment of Germans was so strong here, people changed the word “sauerkraut” to “liberty cabbage” in casual conversation. And what could be more casual than talking about fermented shredded cabbage?

So, somehow, Richard Friske, who arrived in the US with his wife, Olga, in 1952, figured that in order to better disguise his German Nazi fliegendermann background, he could do worse than to don the mantle of US neo-Nazi, so he joined the John Birch Society, supported George Wallace for president in ’68, and got his entire family to be rabid nativists. The Friskes donate to David Duke, Rick Santorum and a number of other brainless spewers of hate against immigrants, homosexuals, and uppity city slickers like yours truly.

People up here still tell about the Friske’s no-mask policy during the pandemic lockdown. One letter to the editor of The Petoskey News-Review vowed never to return after seeing the workers in the kitchen handling food unmasked during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. It was part of Friske’s policy “of allowing staff and customers to make personal choices regarding their health.” It sounds like they want us to be able to pick our own doctors, or maybe get an abortion should we choose one, but really they just want to give everyone the freedom to spread whatever infections they might be harboring.

The letter-writer concludes by mourning that they will never again enjoy the taste of Friske’s cherry doughnuts. The ones in the brown paper bag with grease stains indicating freshness.

Friske’s wasn’t just a passive spreader of the virus. They’ve held a couple super-spreader events in their parking lot, to bawl and whinge about the tyranny of the face mask mandate and how Democrats were out to turn the white man extinct. Last month The MyPillow guy was there for a mass viral load sharing, along with the famous crazy lady who testified drunkenly to the Michigan state legislature next to Rudy Giuliani, and a few hundred other brainwashed foot soldiers of the Trump regime. They were big supporters of a lawsuit to try to get the county’s votes in the last presidential election recounted, Arizona-style. The suit was dismissed because even the Republican judge found that the count had been properly reviewed already.

And, Friske’s, whose motto is, “Not Your Average Fruit Stand,” they do walk the walk, goose- step the goose-step, sometimes even backwards. Even their proud associations with David Duke, the NRA, the John Birch society, and other anti-foreigner organizations, don’t prevent their field labor staff from being admirably diverse. In fact, they were recently raided for employing undocumented immigrants.

Last August, a helpful, neighborly fascist started a fundraiser to stave off “the potential forced closing of our business for refusing to submit to Governor Witmer's unlawful executive orders.” To date, eleven months later, it has yet to reach even half its monetary goal. Apparently, fellow fascists up here are taking up the cause of exercising the free choice to keep their dollars in their wallets.

Friske’s counterpart closer to the reasonable end of the spectrum is King Orchards. They have always been liberal Democrat leaners, not particularly revolutionary, but neither are they overtly supportive of a nativist populism that might make one think of the Ku Klux Klan. They have honored mask requirements and avoided shows of militia-like rebellion against guidelines for businesses to avoid spreading dangerous viruses.

But one needn’t be as radically left as King Orchards is ridiculously considered to be by those insulated within a fascist news bubble, like the listeners to multiple felon “Trucker” Randy Bishop, Antrim County’s white rural version of Tokyo Rose. Most businesses have found it in their non-radical hearts to honor restrictions intended to curtail the spread of Covid-19.

In Charlevoix, about fifteen minutes north of fascist Friske’s, is John Cross Fisheries, where we in the Dorchen family acquire our fish, including salmon, whitefish, and trout, smoked right there on the Cross premises. In fact, my sister and I bought about sixty bucks worth on Monday for consumption by our extended family of Jews, mixed race Catholics, a lapsed Baptist, and a first-generation Cambodian of no declared cosmological belief so far.

When my sister and I entered the establishment to purchase our freshwater delicacies, we honored the sign that said we could enter maskless if we’d been fully vaccinated, and we added our number of customer bodies to the two already inside, bringing the number to four, the highest number allowable. As we were communicating and awaiting our order, the other two patrons left and two newcomers came in to replace them, but a third buzzardlike crone attempted to enter as well. The Paul Bunyan-esque blonde woman at the counter wasn’t having it: “Only four allowed in at a time.”

“But I’m with them,” insisted the weirding woman, as if that declaration somehow altered the mathematical nature of reality. Which is why I snickered cruelly, which sound, I believe, sent the hag scampering.

John Cross III, the owner of the joint, is no innocent, however. It’s just that associating with seccessionistas is not his style, which style showed itself in April, 2019, when he was sentenced to a year in federal custody after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge related to his acquisition and sales of illegally caught lake trout. Cross would be allowed to serve his time “in the offseason,” it was reported, which I thought was a nod to Cross’s otherwise decent behavior as a businessman, and the seventy-year legacy of Cross Fisheries in general. Ancient listeners might remember an essay of mine entitled “Thomas Friedman vs The Methodist Fish Fry.” Spoiler alert: the fish fry wins. And the titular fish in that story was indeed provided by John Cross Fisheries.

There was an agreement between tribal fishing nations and the US government that the tribespeople would change over from using gill nets to trap nets, in order not to maim the fish they caught. And, in order to replenish the lake trout population in the Great Lakes, they would release lake trout caught in the new nets, keeping only less threatened species such as perch, pike, and whitefish, for consumption and sale. In exchange for releasing the lake trout, the government was giving the tribal fisherfolk subsidies of up to $200,000.

But one particular tribal go-getter wanted to augment their subsidy by selling their catch wholesale to John Cross, who went on to sell it himself to restaurants and the general public. Whether Cross knew he was committing a felony is unknown, but the onus was on him to verify the legal source of his product. It was only his and his business’s standing in the community, I believe, that allowed him to negotiate the felony charge down to a misdemeanor pleading.

And, hey, I once negotiated a B&E with larcenous intent charge down to an illegal entry and larceny under $100 charge, so, like, I know how that goes. John III and I are the same age, too, so even though I think a fishmonger owes it to the earth and water to take extra-good care of the sustainability of his source of livelihood, all-in-all I’m glad he negotiated a lenient punishment, as long as he promises never to do it again.

And at least he’s not a fascist, as far as I know.

It’s almost impossible for any business to avoid legal problems at some point in their existence. I don’t know what clandestine shenanigans King Orchards is up to, but at least they don’t rile up the populace and invite out-of-state seditious riot-inciters to bounce around in their parking lot. At least they don’t act as boosters for twisted conspiracy propaganda, not of the rightwing variety, anyway.

My dad was coming home from the dump, which is only open on Saturday, on 88, and as he was heading back, came across a whole police and sheriff presence gathered around the King Orchards roadside store. He thought maybe they were there to greet the new pickers for the big surge in the cherry season. He stopped and asked a sheriff’s deputy.

It seems that, for taking the trouble to be all nice and antifa, King Orchards received a visit from none other than Simple Joe Malarkey Biden, the current president of the US. Probably influenced by the recent NYT article about the political split among roadside fruit farms in Antrim County, which has been reposted and reprinted a lot in local news outlets, Joe gave fascist Friske’s on 31, “Not Your Average Fruit Stand,” the cold shoulder, preferring to tool down Mancelona highway 88 to procure a baker’s dozen cherry pies from King Orchards over the July 4 weekend.

And that’s all the news from Lake Wobegon, where all the fascists have guns, all the guns are good-looking, and all the fruit stands are above average. This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!


Posted by Alexander Jerri

Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.

I was going to talk about magic as if there is an enemy by the name of Dawkins Harris Hitchens whom I must rebut, rebuke, and spank, lest humankind plunge into disaster. I was going to talk about magic as a food, a necessity. Why? Because this week has been so rollercoaster, I can’t get a grip on it. I can barely get a foothold on the slippery sizzling Earth.

Kind of a mixed bag this week or so, is what I’m saying. We’ve got a building collapse with 150-something people missing, but we really won’t know how many till we dig them out. It’s similar to the building disaster in London last year. And there’s a similar sense that Reagan and Thatcher’s plans to starve the public sector is really starting to bear fruit.

Of course, both collapses are reminiscent of 9-11, but we can’t possibly blame that on imperialist overreach and the immanent downfall of the West, can we?

But on the up side we did have some criminal indictments come down against the Trump team, and Rudy Giuliani lost his license to practice law.

But then again the Pennsylvania Supreme Court let convicted rapist of unconscious women he himself drugged unconscious, Bill Cosby, out of jail. And there was a PhD white supremacist shooter who killed two Black people in an incident in Massachusetts no one’s talking about.

And the Pacific Northwest is now the same temperature as the surface of Mercury. Ups and downs, good news/bad news.

But yesterday, the final day of Pride Month – I’d like to tie this in with Pride Month –Donald Rumsfeld, demented fascist war and peace criminal under no less than five administrations, up and died. So, all right! As they say in poker, “call!” He and Dick Cheney were joined at the junk early on under Nixon. Reagan was their third boss. Reagan was to AIDS and HIV what Trump is to Covid 19. Maybe Rumsfeld didn’t have much to do with that part of the Reagan regime, but it’s still good he died.

Hurrah, huzzah! Rumsfeld’s dead, Rumsfeld’s dead, everybody dance and sing!

We can close this all on an up note! Right? Rumsfeld, dead, that is big and beautiful enough to take center stage as the curtain rings down on June 2021. Closing Pride Month with Rumsfeld losing his one precious garbage life is the splash! It’s like there was a new star born in the sky over Stonewall at the best possible moment, when everyone orgasmed! Oh, such joy!

“Oh, Jeff, he wasn’t such a big fish. He was a henchman,” you say. Yes, that’s the best thing you can say about Donald Dagwood Bumstead Rumsfeld, born under a bad sign, a no-vacancy sign that kept flickering on and off, in 1932, in the vermin infested basement of a roach motel. Yes, yes, but he was the henchman of all henchmen. He was the henchman’s henchman.

Rumsfeld could have been a great man, had he lived in an age where the size and weight of one’s skull determined the outcome of one’s career. But he was wooed by the siren song of power. Not just of power, but of being right, being important, making the big calls, the right calls, taking a big obese bite out of the world.

During the course of his life he somehow convinced himself that geo-political stability was the key, the talisman, the golden goblet from which to guzzle the Santorum of Ares. And, of course, the key to that key, the key to stability, was US military dominance. All in the service of US military dominance. All right and wrong, all murder and mayhem, all scheming and spying, for US military supremacy.

Two million Indochinese dead? For stability! Latin America under rampant fascist bloody tyranny? For stability! Panama, Grenada, Libya. For stability! And when he actually had the authority to call the shots: three-quarters of a million Afghanis displaced, and any excuse to invade Iraq. For stability! Torture, torture, and more torture. For stability! Anything and everything, social cohesion, whether foreign or domestic, workers’ rights, human rights, public wellbeing, all were secondary to geo-political stability, which he defined as: no one he had to see on a daily basis getting bombs dropped on them; for that, all must be sacrificed to the Sacred Golden Bull of US military superiority.

And, in the end, he never learned his lesson. He just died. In his final moment, the devil grabbed him by the face holes like a bowling ball and yanked him out of his physical existence. And then he was reincarnated as an ostracized stinkbug, rejected by stinkbug society. And I don’t know what happened to him after that.

And that is joy, my fellow humans, mammals, vertebrates, eucaryotes. That is the reason that, today, we rejoice. That is the reason the mountains skip like rams, and the clouds like lambs. Because death comes to us all, all of us who have tasted life, sometimes tragically, sometimes comically. But sometimes foulness itself dies. Not that foulness has disappeared from the Earth. But a very significant foulness has been snuffed out.

And that, my loves, is magic.
This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!


Posted by Alexander Jerri

Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.

Juneteenth is now a federal holiday in the USA. It’s nationwide! It’s been celebrated by Black people since 1866, a year after the event that instigated it happened, when, on June 19, 1865, Union Army general Gordon Granger came to Galveston, Texas to announce and enforce the Emancipation Proclamation of three years earlier. Texas was the last Confederate state to still maintain slavery.

So, Juneteenth doesn’t just celebrate the official end of legal chattel slavery of human beings in the United States, it also celebrates when the Union Army came and forced Texas to stop enslaving Black people. It doesn’t just celebrate that the government announced there was to be an official legal change in the status of Black human beings: it commemorates the sad truth that some people are so attached to their domination over other people’s bodies, labor, and choices that they have to be forced at gunpoint to even pretend to acknowledge their personhood.

And this is the first year it’s gone national! Official! Legit!

What does one do on Juneteenth? Celebrate Black culture in all its multifaceted magnificence, that’s what! Sing, dance, buy shea butter products and green yellow and black T-shirts, eat soul food and drink strawberry soda. Educate yourself about Black history. Pay attention to Black political and artistic voices. Watch “Small Axe,” “A Wrinkle in Time,” and reruns of “Tremé” and “Watchmen.”

I was very excited to celebrate Juneteenth this year. Finally, a national holiday I could get behind. But maybe it was because President Simple Joe Malarkey only declared it a couple days before the holiday, so it was too short notice, or maybe I just didn’t plan the day right. I don’t want to call out anyone by name, but I was very disappointed. I didn’t get invited to a single cookout. There’s one I probably could’ve invited myself to, and there was the two-day street bash in Leimert Park, but, you know, a fellow likes to be asked.

It is true that Juneteenth has been celebrated for a hundred fifty-five years, and never once in all that time have I been invited to a bash, cookout, sock hop, soiree, or to-do. So why should I expect to be invited to one now, just because some old white dude signed a piece of paper?

I don’t remember Black people demanding that Juneteenth be made a national holiday, anyway. So it’s not like my attitude can be, “Hey, you wanted this. It’s my holiday too, now! Just like everybody’s Irish on St. Paddy’s Day, everybody’s young, gifted, and Black on Juneteenth!”

An essay titled, “Is Juneteenth for Everybody?” was published by The Crunk Feminist Collective, and republished in MS. Written by feminist of color scholar and activist Brittney Cooper, it’s her personal ruminations on the meaning of the holiday, and her reaction to its being embraced by white people, and by Black people who hadn’t previously known about, until last year when the protests against police carte blanche to murder Black people were conspicuously in the public eye.

One paragraph from the essay seems particularly salient to me:

“The only thing that Juneteenth can and should mean to white people in 2021 is an opportunity to reckon with the 156-year history and very present threat of white denialism. A significant swath of white people simply refuse to acknowledge that they lost on November 3 ... They have in great defiance of the truth, decided that if they just don’t concede, they can hold the nation hostage to their vision of a world of Black and Brown subjugation and white dominance.”

She’s referring not just to today’s white denialism, but the white denialism of Reconstruction, when the South forced their denial of defeat in the Civil War on their Black populations through terrorism and Jim Crow, and white denialism as a continuous toxic vein throughout our national history.

We all have our “shoulds,” but the instant someone tells me what something “should” mean to me, or what I “should” do, or how I “should” behave, I instantly become annoyed, aggrieved, and resistant. That’s part of my heritage as a spiritual descendant of those who’ve always resisted persecution and analyzed its causes in order to rebel against them, in every age. That’s what I think Black people, white people, queer people, poor people, and all people should do. That’s my big should, and it’s why capitalism is at the top of my list of wrongs to be righted.

But in the end I can’t say I really have any disagreement with Cooper’s analysis, and her prescription didn’t hurt my prickly, fragile feelings hardly at all. I agree that Juneteenth is one among many opportunities for me to reckon with the history and threat of white denialism.

But I also want food. Like it or not, it’s a national holiday now, and if it’s not a fast, it’s a feast. So Juneteenth morning at about eight am I woke up and drove down to the corner of Vernon and San Pedro, a few blocks east of the 110, to where I used to patronize a particularly marvelous carnitas truck before Covid. I just wanted to make sure they were still there, and they were, a friend and I could go there the next day, which we were planning to do. But I happened to score a very rare parking space just a few yards from the truck, so I figured I’d have one taco.

2 bucks for the best carnitas taco, with the meat and skin so beautifully chopped up together. Best money I ever spent on food. By the time I was finished it was about 9:30 am, and I thought I might drop by Phillip’s BBQ, which was about 7 minutes away. Phillip’s is excellent BBQ, and surely there would be something special going on for Juneteenth. I saw on Google Maps that it opened at 11. I could kill an hour or so.

I drove around the Leimert Park neighborhood, where there was scheduled to be a big thing for the next couple days, but that didn’t start till noon, and folks were barely even beginning to set up. Then I went and parked across the street from Phillip’s, and listened to some This Is Hell while biding my time... until I got out and saw their special Juneteenth hours had them opening an hour later than usual. And they were warning of crowds and the necessity of pre-ordering. And Chef Marilyn’s, Queen of Downhome Southern Goodies, down the block, was similarly delayed and similarly warning. And I had to pee.

I bought a bottle of Fanta strawberry at a gas station, hoping in exchange to bargain for the use of their bathroom. No dice. So, I peed behind the gas station.

I got antsy and went home. Too much waiting is not celebrating. Later in the day I made myself some country ribs and chicken to go with my red soda. Not a big fan of BBQ brisket. I’ve rarely had it done right, and it’s not a cheap cut of meat.

And then I watched an episode or two of the TV adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad. And then I wrote this.

And that could be the way I’ll do Juneteenth from now on. But another tradition I have is to try to ingratiate myself in order to wangle invites to holiday meals. Rosh Hashanah, Passover, Christmas, Thanksgiving, or any old parking meter holiday barbecue, that’s my holiday ritual. I’m sure my Black friends who celebrate have been doing so with their extended families for years and years, and I know I’m not part of those families or those traditions. And maybe they’re afraid I’ll say something foolish, like, “Y’know what Juneteenth needs? A mascot. Kid friendly. Like, maybe, Hong Kong Phooey, the cartoon martial arts expert dog janitor voiced by Scatman Crothers. Or Urkel! Everybody loves Urkel!” Hey, I promise not to do that, nor anything of the sort.

My sincere condolences that your holiday has been commandeered by the United States of America. It’s an empire! That’s just how they do things. They did it to your bodies, your music, and your food. I mean, you really should be used to it.

And, listen, commemorating the refusal to relinquish or even acknowledge legal domination over other people’s bodies, choices, and labor until forced at gunpoint – that’s a holiday we’ve needed forever. Let’s make it American as apple pie!

So, get ready for next year. Guess who’s coming to dinner? This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!

 


Posted by Alexander Jerri

Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.

What makes great masses of people believe the same stupid, or magical, or xenophobic, or elitist narrative? What made Emperor Constantine decriminalize Christianity and eventually elevate it to the state religion of the Roman Empire? And what made people go along with that? What made people agree on currency? What makes people agree on crypto-currency? What makes so many people agree on the greatness of certain art? Or certain food?

Well, certain food is objectively delicious, but still...

At the root of this question might be, “how do people come to believe strongly, vehemently, even violently, opinions having no other value than the value the believers assign to them?”

Then again, what other value do opinions have? Well, a medically trained doctor’s opinion of why, say, you aren’t capable of speaking above a whisper, might have more value to you than that of someone who’s just tossing out guesses, because of the training and expertise of the one, compared with the lack of them of the other.

But you might not like the doctor’s opinion, because it has implications that require you to have polyps removed from your vocal chords, whereas the know-nothing opinion might only require you to eat chicken soup or suck on a slippery elm lozenge.

So, still, although you have your reasons, no specific property of the opinions other than your own judgment would make you choose one or the other. The medical one may be correct, or better reflect your physical condition, but you could still ignore it indefinitely if you were attached to the other opinion for some cowardly or superstitious reason.

I recently learned a little about the Saint Francis dam disaster, a fiasco made possible by the water wars of the late 1920s and 1930s, which Robert Towne and Roman Polanski used as a McGuffin to build their Chinatown on. The details would be better told as one of Renaldo’s Rotten Histories than by me. He may have already done so, I don’t know because there’s no way to search for just the Rotten Histories – I’m not trying to create more work for the archivists, I’m just saying: I’ll just be giving you the broad, choppy strokes.

Bureau of Water Works manager and chief engineer, William Mulholland, who would go on to have a drive through the Hollywood Hills named after him, wanted to be a big hero so that he could eventually have a David Lynch lesbian rom-com gone wrong named after his winding road. So he had a huge dam built and redirected the Owens River away from the Owens River Valley and its farms into an enormous reservoir. The dam needed to be higher than he at first thought, because of all the water that needed to be stolen, so they built it higher, but Mulholland, like a doofus, neglected to increase the size of the foundation.

Oh, speaking of lesbian romantic comedy gone wrong, I guess having to turn a whole season of your funny show over to maudlin lesbians is the appropriate punishment for thinking you might have sex, on a date, in your apartment. JUST KIDDING! Good for you, D’iziz I'msari! I’m sure your friend and her lover’s semi-autobiographical story of struggle, sorrow, joy, and commitment is just the thing to breathe new life into the comatose world of situation comedy. It’s a gag worthy of Andy Kaufman in the years when he traveled with his fake family of Evangelical Christian hymn singers. But back to the topic at hand.

Long and the short of it, or rather just the short of it: at two-and-a-half minutes to midnight, on March 12, 1928, the Saint Francis dam collapsed, sending twelve and a half billion gallons of water smashing through farms and towns, rolling for sixty-five miles to the sea, flattening everything in its path. Four hundred to six hundred people were killed, and even the higher number’s probably low, because of all the undocumented laborers and their families who were also wiped out.

Mulholland had a vision, and it was a case of, “build it and they will come,” or rather, “build it and everyone will believe it was necessary, because who would go to the immense, costly lengths of stealing twelve-and-a-half billion gallons of water from an entire valley if it wasn’t necessary?

Somehow, the bigger and more audacious the lie, and the more resources it takes to commit whatever crimes demanded by the lie, the stronger the allegiance to it by congenital suckers. We see passionate attachment to opinions that run counter to historical documentation, empirical evidence, common sense, and our own lived experience more and more often, it seems, accepted by more of the public, trumpeted more loudly, having greater influence on our collective activities, and thus steering our collective destiny as a species ever closer to extinction.

Or maybe that’s just my opinion. And lord knows I’m no expert on anything, so why would anyone pay attention to my opinion? But I guess I’m just as good a fool as any, in today’s marketplace of dumb opinions.

In the foregoing description, we build our image of what the world is, with our opinions. And some building materials are more stable than others. The more closely we adhere to accurate observation and the counsel of the learned and experienced, the less likely we are to wake up being carried out to the ocean by a seventy-five foot flood wave.

What happens when 25 to 30% of US society has built their world out of the lousiest stuff imaginable? A house of cards can at least be glued and taped together to extend its questionable structural integrity. A house of pancakes will at least leave you something buttery and sweet to eat after it’s collapsed around you.

But a dam holding back a grotesque amount of stolen life necessities built on the delusions of a megalomaniac will sweep us all into the ocean. And on the way out to sea we’ll be smashed by huge chunks of the faulty structure or ripped to pieces by jagged flotsam and the antlers and horns of dead deer and antelope.

This ain’t no house of pancakes. We’re swimming in the reservoir, or strolling on top of the overburdened dam, and even though many, many of us are constantly warning that the foundation is rotten, there’s not a lot that can be done, because the edifice is built on ages of bad opinions and was constructed long before we got here.

Maybe it’s not too late to switch to pancakes as we build the tower of doom higher from now on. I don’t know, whaddya think?

This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!


Posted by Alexander Jerri

Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.

Earlier in the year, Chuck read a communication from a listener who seemed to wonder, since any action one takes, with whatever intention, gets coopted by the capitalist machine that contributes to destroying people’s lives, and no one, without exception, has yet been able to escape from the snare, wouldn’t it be better just to remove oneself from the Earth, in order to at least minimize one’s bad impacts on the planet, and cease the process of feeding the system with well-intentioned efforts, all of which eventually arrive at negative outcomes?

I mean, if this really is Hell, why should we continue to stay here?

I hope that listener has resolved this issue to their satisfaction. Nevertheless, should anyone else be positing similar questions about the value of carrying on, here are a few things to consider. And believe me, I need to take this mental journey as much as anyone.

In the simplest terms, if this really is Hell, then the option to leave is a red herring, and you’d probably end up somewhere even worse, or at best back where you started. And if you survive a suicide attempt (I’m assuming I’ve been coyly discussing suicide here, though I don’t really know myself that well) you will be stigmatized and possibly lose what little freedom you have. And being trapped in a mental hospital, at the mercy of a system that’s currently discussing bringing back electroshock and lobotomies, is worse than what you might be wishing to escape from.

I assume everyone agrees that it’s possible to do a modest amount of good to improve the lives of others in a small way, every day. Someone is in pain right now, and you can relieve that pain. That alone, whatever the unintended consequences down the line, is worth the price of admission.

Don’t beat yourself up for your inability to escape the moral convolutions of human existence. I mean, if you think about it, it’s an egotistical point of view. Who do you think you are, Supergirl? Jesus? Buddha? Jimmy Carter? Florence Nightingale? Leonora Carrington? Esther Freud? Esther, daughter of Mordechai? Joan of Arc? Edith Piaf? Zora Neale Hurston? All of them with human flaws, some with pretty lousy ones. Ask James Baldwin about Zora Neale Hurston some time, if you ever get reincarnated into the past, which is likely.

What I’m trying to say is, it is not humble to think of oneself too far beyond one’s immediate effects on the universe. That’s how you end up with folks with overweening ambition, like the people I could name who’ve visited actual horrible sweeping direct effects upon the innocent, like Henry Kissinger, Pol Pot... I assume you get the idea.

Even thinking in terms of achievements and direct effects at all, talking about who’s a tyrant, who’s an altruist – it’s just a bunch of dick-measuring. Weighing your results to see if you’ve got a net positive is succumbing to the commodification mindset many of us agree is threatening our species and others as well, not to mention the ones it’s already destroyed.

I’d like to give a shoutout to just existing.

Existence gives you something to think about. Stuff to experiment with. An arena in which to rehearse and perform. A piece of ground on which to stand and from which to journey hither and yon.

Look, existence is full of bastards and idiots, but it’s the only place to get a decent taco. The best books we know of are all here. The cutest cat videos. The tallest trees! The coldest planet! The bluest whale. The stinkiest cheese. The most massive black hole.

Still discouraged about how little you can accomplish and how badly it can be twisted by the overweening class? You know what the dry drunks say: Give me the strength to change what I can, the patience to endure what I can’t, and the wisdom to know the difference.

As it is recorded in the Mishna, Rabbi Tarfon used to say: It is not your duty to finish the work, but neither are you at liberty to neglect it.

And as good and sensible as that may sound, I say, “up yours, Rabbi. You’re not the boss of me.” Here’s my spin on Rabbi Harpoon: your duty is to realize you don’t have a duty.

You may take a duty upon yourself; good for you. You may have a duty forced upon you; whether you rise to it or fail is up to no one’s judgment but your own. No one is able to dictate the ultimate meaning, or lack of it, of a single thought, action, or breath you take.

Think about it. It’s called enlightenment. Everybody’s got at least a little.

Lest you think I’m getting too big for my britches, here’s something even worse: if you see the Buddha on the road, don’t kill him. Just go up to him, pat him on the shoulder, and say, “Dude, enlightenment, yeah, y’know, everyone feels that way sometimes. You don’t gotta make such a big deal about it, like it’s a jewel in a lotus or something. Man, chill.”

Consider the Dahlonega gold mine. Around 1880, a man with the name of Knight, like the medieval knight, discovered a vein of gold-bearing quartz twenty-two feet thick, running downhill underground at a 45-degree angle, deep, plunging below the level of the water table.

And you know what the shaft is called? The Dahlonega “Glory Hole.”

Even from as base an activity as the mad search for gold, you can end up with a shaft with a thick vein in it, plunging deep, and you are cordially invited to enter the Glory Hole. Do you know how much gold can be recovered from that ore? Why, a veritable golden shower.

This set of double-entendres was brought to you by Pride Month.

Where else can a few greedy people, 141 years ago, in Georgia, clawing for their fortune under the Earth, end up with a legacy that might make old queens of today, some of whom have had very difficult lives, giggle. Old queens and puerile essayists. Where else, but right here in good old existence?

Don’t be measuring outcomes. No need to weigh your soul against a feather, that’s someone else’s tune, Jake. This is where it’s all happenin’. This is where it’s at.

This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!


Posted by Alexander Jerri

Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink. It’s quite a paradox.

We’ve all either come into conflict with those with whom we have an inexplicable bond, over things we care about deeply, or avoided conflict with these others over them, but the conflict is always there, always lurking amid potential interactions. And we’ve each had to navigate these minefields in our own way. This is the shameful story of one of my navigations.

Early one day, I opened my email to find some very strange messages: three friends had written to console me. Apparently, a mutual friend of ours had sent an email to me, cc’d to the three of them, that lambasted me so harshly they were concerned for my welfare. One was apologetic, as the author of the email was her husband. Another, the mother-in-law of this fellow, averred that she’d “always liked me,” as if I were already swinging from a structural beam, or had taken a header off the roof of a skyscraper or a picturesque cliff. The third person copied in – just a good friend who had himself witnessed the writer’s and my brewing antagonism over the years – I think, urged me not to take anything in the offending email to heart.

I hadn’t read the email in question, because I had long ago had my email-handling software funnel all correspondence from this fellow into a folder labeled with his name, a colon, and the value-free word “crap.” After reading these other, sympathetic, emails, I went and found the offending missive in that folder and, rather than read it, shoveled it into the email furnace. For that reason, I got all the delight of getting my wounds salved without receiving any of the wounds. It was all salve.

Had I read the email, I’m sure I would have needed the soothing voices of the concerned folk. I even got a few more apologetic texts from the wife, so I told her, and I paraphrase, “I didn’t read it. I have too much respect for him to want to think of him saying nasty things about me.”

And the fact is, it’s true. I think he’s an amazing person. He’s a unique combination of traditional and unorthodox, has a rigorous yoga practice, and goes above and beyond the dharma he considers it his duty to follow.

He lived in Seattle for a while, where he worked for Microsoft, started a pop-up restaurant, and did a few other things to accumulate enough money to build his parents a house in Kerala, pitch in with his wife to pay for the raising and schooling of their two daughters, and help with the raising of yet someone else’s daughter in India. He’s an auto-didactic scholar of Western philosophy and literature, a lifelong devotee of the Vedas, and a pupil at the feet of an ecumenical guru in the far north, toward the Himalayas.

Some time after this incident, back in October of what I guess we’re still calling 2020, but should really just call Lost Covid Year, his wife informed me of the death of her father-in-law, and told me that her husband, whom I’ll refer to henceforth as “Voltaire,” one of his favorite writers, would surely appreciate a timely message. I wrote to him:

“Sincere condolences on the death of your father. I often pause from my daily mental and emotional nonsense to recall with gratitude the hospitality you and your parents extended to me during my visit. With respect, I wish that you might be visited with blessed memories, or, as my people say, with their idiosyncratic grammar, “may his memory be for a blessing.’”

And that was all true. I don’t say things about people’s departed friends or relatives that I don’t feel. He and his parents were very good to me when I visited them in Palakkad, Kerala, and I’ve often thought of that time with deep gratitude.

I didn’t think about it any further. I didn’t know if he’d appreciated the email or not. But this week, during Memorial Day weekend, Voltaire came into my mind when I was reading a paper by the author of The Heathen in His Blindness, a fascinating book, which Voltaire had introduced me to. The book was partially inspired by the work of Edward Said, who most definitely paved the way for academic critiques of Western intellectual hegemony, of which critiques this book might be the most influential since Said’s own Orientalism.

In addition, Voltaire’s wife, my friend, posted a fetching video he’d made of some of the goings- on near the Ganges, where he, his wife, and his mother are currently having to quarantine while a surge of covid-19 ravages India.

Well, shame on me. I got curious, for some reason, to know exactly when Voltaire had sent that nasty message I hadn’t read, so I went back looking for the sympathetic missives from his wife, her mother, and our mutual friend. I couldn’t find them, for the life of me. Perhaps I’d deleted all traces of the event.

But while I was searching for those, I stumbled onto an email I’d missed last October. It was from Voltaire. It was in response to my condolence email. He had responded after all. He had appreciated it, and ended with the statement, “I want you to also know that of all the many condolences that I have got, yours is the first mail I responded to. And I never ever lie.”

Yes, shame on me, because I wrote back to him:

“I appreciated this very much. I haven't responded till now because of my own interpretations of Jewish ideas of tzedakah, which have led me to contain interpersonal streams of gratitude, going out and coming in, within a discrete mental/emotional compartment.”

That, of course, was a lie. I hadn’t responded, because I hadn’t known that message existed. See, unlike Voltaire, I frequently lie. I never lie during the Moment of Truth, though. I just make shit up.

It wasn’t entirely a lie, the thing about my midrash on tzedakah. And it’s not a midrash. It’s an opinion by me on an opinion of Maimonides on charitable giving. I mean, stretching the definition, it might be considered a midrash, with a small em, given that I am a Jew, and a free- wheeling freelance type, like Bob Dylan only not as crazy or talented.

I was referring to Maimonides’ eight rungs on the ladder of tzedakah, have you heard of this? The lowest kind of charity is to give grudgingly. I mean, it’s giving, but you shouldn’t be a jerk about it. The highest level of tzedakah is to help set someone up to be self-sustaining. As Voltaire and his wife did with the girl in India. You know, teach the man to fish, and provide maybe a rod and reel, maybe a tackle box, a six pack in a cooler, and a couple recipes.

I was referring to the second highest level, though, where the giver doesn’t know to whom they’re giving, and the receiver doesn’t know where the gift came from. It’s anonymous all around. It’s like double-blind charity. The second best.

Interestingly, Maimonides never said what level it is when it’s double-blind and the receiver is set up to be self-sufficient. Would that be somewhere in between the highest and the second highest? Of course not! Anonymity makes the best even better! And, come on, it’s hard to pull off anonymity when you’re providing someone with what they need to lift themselves out of economic precariousness.

Maimonides didn’t think of that, and he was basically the top Rabbinic thinker of the 12th Century. Maybe he thought it would never happen. He never read Great Expectations. He figured it would be impossible for someone to conceal their identity while also contriving to give someone a good life start. Like a kickstart. But now we have Kickstarter and all the other giving sites, most if not all of which offer anonymity.

Was Maimonides unimaginative? Certainly less imaginative than Dickens. Or did he just figure that, anonymously or otherwise, setting someone on the road to independence topped them all? Yeah, it was probably that. He’s wrong, though.

Anyway, the ostensible idea behind this lie is that I didn’t feel my thanking him for his thanking me would be seemly. Just accept the thanks. It’s convoluted logic, especially if explained by a ridiculous man. And obviously, what really happened was I’d been averse to receiving any communication from him at all. And now I was mildly shamed, if not exactly ashamed.

Lest you think I’ve learned my lesson to give at least a cursory glance to any email from someone I respect conditionally, I have not. Embedded in Voltaire’s thank you email was the following statement: “I love the Jewish people, but I reject the western liberal identification of problems and I think its solutions whether in relation to race or gender are going to be worse than what it is.” I do not want to unpack that. I don’t want to address it. I don’t want to discuss it. I don’t know what he means by liberal, and I don’t care. I have no desire to trap myself again in the endless cycle of semantics, misunderstandings, insults, and convoluted explanations involving thousands of years of what may or may not be knowledge.

Voltaire adds, after asserting his philo-Semitism (a form of Orientalism, I might note, but don’t get me started, don’t get me started) and his rejection of western liberal solutions, "Our disagreements are about that,” as if that had been the whole of our epic struggle during the past decades. As a contrarian, he sometimes moves in radical Hindu nationalist circles, so our disagreements bleed out all over the map, they hemorrhage over the entire collection of disagreement atlases. But of course, it’s always more complex than that.

If there ever was a case of the agony of influence, his influence on me is one. And shame on me for not diving into that nutritious cesspool of contradictions with my mouth wide open.

I cannot but accept that shame. Shame, shame on me. This has been the Moment of Truth. G’day, myte!

 


Posted by Alexander Jerri

Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.

I can’t save numbers of people in Jerusalem or Gaza, or even Tel Aviv, for that matter, with the skills I’ve, maybe foolishly, chosen to cultivate. I’m a writer. Sometimes even an artist. All I can do is process things, such as the current iteration of brutality by the Israeli Occupation against its unwilling Palestinian wards, its painted birds, and I’ve been doing so with the help, these days, of the words and overall attitude of Palestinian American poet and novelist, Naomi Shihab Nye. That processing will take some time. It’s going to be a collective effort. I hadn’t considered the collaborative nature of a poet. My thought has always been that some writing is solitary. But nothing human is ever truly solitary.

Longtime Chicago theater and music creator Beau O’Reilly was close friends with the recently- departed Michael Martin, who I talked about two weeks ago. Today, I’m talking about Beau. And by way of talking about Beau, I’m talking about collective endeavors.

Beau has a new record out. What can you say about a record by a man who is twelve centuries old in thunderstorm years but has a new girl baby, and includes a song, not about that girl baby, though her vocals are featured on it, but about the boy baby that was posited earlier on and received so many gifts in the mail he opened an imaginary emporium?

Maybe I just said it.

But probably not. The new record, Thrifty, by Beau O’Reilly, available from Uvulittle, is an expression of intentional community. It’s one of the things lately which, like hearing about the courtyard at Cary’s Lounge, or anything at all going on at Cary’s, makes me want to come back to Chicago. Beau wrote all the lyrics, except a few, and sent them out for different musician friends to write the music and turn them lyrics into songs. Then those and other friends came together/apart, in that covid way we’ve all resorted to and begun to polish, to record them. All during the 2020 plague year, that’s what happened.

Soil, earth, plant, and tree metaphors will be relied on heavily in this discussion. A few words about Beau’s words: his diction and expression arise organically from strata of influences layered over a bedrock of the imperative to create. There has never been any question to Beau – or at least I’ve never detected any – that the writing, creating, rehearsing, and playing with others would go on. I feel this is probably true of all of those involved in this record. But that’s the foundation of lyrical discovery I’ve always seen and felt in Beau’s writing.

The lyrics always involve the ongoing world and its inhabitants outside the writer/singer. Rarely do I hear the word “I” in the lyrics. “We” seems the preferred first-person pronoun, “you” and “they” and their myriad antecedents fleshing out most of the crowd populating the singer’s world. Or that’s how I hear it. And if I’m wrong, well, then maybe it’s because there’s always something mediating between identities in the songs: a scarf, a bat, a sky, a mutually-known other, a memory, a name one wants another to say, a button, a table leg, a toad. The songs aim outward, into the world.

The collection of musicians involved make this a tree with roots deep and wide, reaching into various communities of Chicago independent music and storefront theater. I first met Beau in 1988, when he and collaborating stage presence Jenny Magnus were the hub, at least as I saw it, of ongoing musical, literary, and theatrical extended families. And the music that grew within and around their co-evolving stagecraft became a singular organism, grown out of folk elements, cabaret elements, rock elements, and lyric influences diverse as Bertolt Brecht, Edith Piaf, Irving Berlin, Allen Ginsburg, Jagger and Richards, Basho, torch songs, blues songs, romance language political laments – I still hear those elements, as particles of the music that is its own undefinable being.

I was going use the label, “art song,” but apparently that is something with a rigid definition, and I don’t want to argue definitions. The instruments are firstly the voice – Beau’s primarily – and include plucked and strummed strings by, among others, Theater Oobleck’s Baudelaire in a Box’s Chris Schoen and T-Roy Martin, who’s also on tuba and trombone at times, and both of whom have played in Beau’s Crooked Mouth String Band; a satisfying bass clarinet by Dez Desormeaux of Mambo Zombies with longtime Neo-Futurist Heather Riordon’s accordion on several tangos; the singing saw of Experimental Sound Studio’s Ralph Loza; worldwide master jazz trombonist Jeb Bishop; and many guitars, pianos, drums, fiddle, and voices provided by the thickening forest of brilliant members of the community Beau has formed of his friends and family.

The music composers range widely, too. Multi-instrumentalist and singer Vernon Tonges’ setting of “Bring It Over Here” allows Beau’s dynamic range a big space fly in. Singer- songwriter and author of the excellent book, “This Land That I Love,” contrasting Irving Berlin and Woody Guthrie as anthemists, John Shaw, set the somehow-familiar-on-first-hearing “Honeyed Mouth.” Stephanie Rearick’s piano on “The Hook,” to which she wrote the music, incorporates so much of what I’ve imagined above are the influences on Beau’s musicality. On “Falling” there’s majestic piano by DePaul music professor and avant-garde composer Jeff Kowalkowski, who also wrote the music for the song and provides additional vocals. Julie Williams’s featured vocals on the song for which she did the setting and co-wrote the lyrics, “Love is the Province,” have an almost Mo Tucker clarity of timbre, although Julie’s pitch is far more stable. Longtime O’Reilly creative partner, Miki Greenberg, set the words to “Head Up the Freeway,” and his vibrant piano on that song is a blood-tonic to hear again. Chris Schoen set “Bat and Fist,” featuring beautiful fiddle by Old Town School of Folk Music’s Colby Maddox, and fattened up with rich background harmony vocals that are uncredited, but I believe I detect the Roches-esque tonal purity of Jenny Magnus. Jenny and Beau wrote it together. Jenny wrote the words and music to “Anglesmith,” on which her exceptional supporting vocals are a unique instrument unto themselves.

Court Dorsey, one of Beau’s “oldest and closest friends,” has the only other words-and-music credit, with “Love Around the Corner,” a song the optimism of which would sound foolish if not informed by well-earned awareness.

Life is hard, things break, bats shriek, gods have it in for you, people die. Making one’s life about art is a struggle, unless one hits the fame lottery, or has a supernaturally sunny disposition, and even then. All these artists are survivors of a capitalism that lives to penalize those who dare to wring their own personal treasure out of life, and to offer that treasure to those who accept such rare, handmade, idiosyncratic currency.

I don’t mean to reduce this record to a small victory in the war between good and evil, life and death, freedom and slavery, but that it is a monument to the struggle for a rich community life against an increasingly atomizing and punitive social ethos pressing down on us all is undeniable. These are talented artists making art at my eye level, making music at my ear level, and I’m not a tall man, but they take me to the tops of trees. This music is also the thirst that is the drink, and the soul soil to grow more music in.

Again, the record is Thrifty, by Beau O’Reilly, available from Uvulittle.com.

 

Beau will be performing on Saturday, online and in person at 8pm Central Time at Constellation 3111 N. Western Avenue, livestreaming on https://youtu.be/1pphP8ddTKo

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/beau-oreilly-tickets-150836663521

https://uvulittle.com/catalog/beau-oreilly/thrifty

Please remember to make a donation to the artists if you livestream it. This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!