Friday, August 18, 2017

The Monster Isn't Who We Thought It Was

Last Saturday, August 12, 2017, I took my family to one of the sweetest, happiest, enduring togetherness moments we have shared in six years of marriage: The John Kay & Steppenwolf Concert at Southern Grounds Amphitheater in Fayetteville, Georgia. To get the back story that brought us there, you can read my blog post of May 20, 2017 here.

We carried some trepidation with us.

For me, the trepidation was centered on one particular song: "The Pusher." Originally penned by Hoyt Axton, the song was recorded by Steppenwolf on their first album in 1967, and hit the big time with its' inclusion, along with "Born To Be Wild," in the 1968 movie "Easy Rider." The song has a strong anti-hard drug message, and is filled with bitter anger, if not hatred, toward the person who sells heroin. That message set it apart; the music has a cyclic rise to a peak, followed by a crash, repeated through the song, and that sets it apart; but the thing that MOST sets it apart, and prevented it from being played on commercial radio, is the inclusion of a prayer. The singer asks God to consign the soul of the pusher to hell, and you can't say that, in that phrase, anywhere but in the pulpit, and in my opinion, you'd be better off not doing it there, either.

Admittedly, the first time I heard the song, I was recovering from a pair of awful, traumatic, devastating drug experiences myself, and I highly endorsed the message. I wanted the people who sold me what I asked for to be punished ultimately. But, I was only 16 years old. Today, at 64, I don't want ANYBODY to suffer damnation; I desire that they repent and be won over to the truth.

And all that, I got to explain to my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, and our 12 year-old Kenneth, and our 11 year-old Alicia. I told them that the song might be disturbing to them, because it used words that don't belong in polite conversation. I explained that the words were a very powerful curse, but had been degraded to be just rough language, cussing, which was often just used for shock value. It was a good conversation for all of us. We knew the band planned on playing the song as an encore, and we discussed leaving before the encore. The tentative decision, before we got to the venue, was that we would play it by ear. And the kids assured me that this wasn't the first time they had heard those words, and that they didn't find them to be terrifying.

I'm gonna have to work on that. There is nothing more horrible than the loss of a soul to hell, and I hate it that the impact has been cheapened by common use.

So, that was MY trepidation. It was a bit of an issue for Vanessa as well, but we need not have worried. Some practice or statute applied, and Steppenwolf didn't play "The Pusher" for an encore.

However, Vanessa was concerned mostly about the concert itself. See, whereas I spent the late 60's in the middle class suburbs of Macon, GA as a teen, Vanessa at that age was living in rural North Carolina. Dirt road, out house, chickens, tobacco farms. She wasn't a fan of rock and roll. She had heard of the Beatles and Elvis, but she was a follower of the Jackson Five, the Temptations, and other Motown music. She was expecting there to be a lot of screaming and loud, chaotic music. And to add to her lack of comfort, when we get to the venue, all in attendance are elderly white people. Except her. I posted some pictures I took before it got dark; Almost all of the heads that weren't white or gray were bald. LOTS of guys that looked like me, and I am a rare sight in church, the grocery store, etc. Long hair, pulled back in a pony tale, a beard steadily getting whiter. You see, this was the 50th Anniversary Tour for the group: 1967 - 2017. And MOST of the die-hard Steppenwolf fans were won in those early years, so there were a LOT of people there older than me.

It's a creepy feeling, for a black woman who grew up on a dirt road in North Carolina in the 1960s, to find herself surrounded by a couple of thousand old white people. Not many good memories associated with that kind of experience. And this is the way she was looking, because this was the way she was feeling, at the start of the concert.

Fortunately, things changed for her. Some of that may have been because of my unbridled enthusiasm for the music we heard. The warm-up group, Greg Humphreys Electric Trio, had a lead guitar player who could tear that thing UP!

Most of it, though, was the relaxed hospitality she experienced from the crowd and the venue staff. The staff seemed happy to see us! Lots of smiles, and the lady pouring drinks for Chik-Fil-A seemed genuinely interested in our beautiful children, and where we'd come from. She was one of those sorts you can drag a lawn chair up next to, and chat with while she does her work.

And whatever hesitancy she still had vanished as soon as John Kay and Steppenwolf began to play. She was expecting the audience to be screaming and jumping up and down; I don't know if her last concert experience, at a Jacob Sartorius concert with Alicia last year, had anything to do with that expectation. But THIS audience was well behaved. We stayed in our seats, we sang along with the music, but not obnoxiously so, and NOBODY gave us anything like a nasty look for being a bi-racial couple with mixed race children.

I pointed out to her that a LOT of these people were old hippies; in fact, I told her that ALL the old hippies, except for those who died, and the rest who moved to Asheville, were here at the concert. We got a LOT of things wrong, but we got the racial reconciliation right, and love really IS the answer. It's just that fifty years ago, we really didn't understand much about love. Now? Remains to be seen. But at any rate, there were no hostile vibes coming from the audience, and certainly no hostile vibes coming from the music.

"Monster" is the song that touched me the most. It tells the story of oppressed people coming to America, looking for freedom from kings, and a home of their own. They made mistakes along they way, but America
"just patiently smiled, and bore them a child to be their spirit, and guiding light."

Now, at the time the album 'Monster' was released in 1969, the American scene was pretty grim. For white boys my age, the people who were buying the records, the draft was always hovering in the darkness, waiting to get us, and we were sure we would go to Viet Nam. We had just been through the horror of 1968, with the assassinations and riots on television. Street drugs became available for anyone willing to stroll down Peachtree Street between 7th and 14th in Atlanta, and I'm sure the same was true elsewhere.

And the feeling was: if the cops would just leave us alone, if the draft would just leave us alone, we'd be living in paradise. In all of the underground newspapers (mine was the Great Speckled Bird) there were articles about the Military-Industrial Complex. Cartoons featured a monstrous figure in uniform, eating young civilian men, and excreting soldiers.

It was the Establishment, man. They were trying to put us in a box! If we could just be free, everything would be wonderful!

But two things were happening. On the individual level, more and more people were having new ideas. The first surge of baby boomers were reaching their majority, and many of them had different ideas about life than their parents had.
On the governmental level, executive orders, court decisions, and legislation were eliminating the legal foundation for depriving black citizens access to the vote, schools, jobs, and housing. I believe it started with an Executive Order Harry Truman signed, demanding equality of treatment and opportunity without respect to race. Over a period of a very few years, the main statutory supports of de jure deprivation of civil rights were eliminated. De facto discrimination is a habit that takes longer to change, but the truth is: our society in 2017 is radically different from that of 1947.

And now I have to return to 'Monster' by Steppenwolf. Two quotes, not in order:

"The spirit was freedom and justice"
"Now it's a monster and will not obey"
And to be perfectly clear: my family comes back from a wonderful, unifying, uplifting experience at the concert, and when I (foolishly) look at the news the next day, I see that there has been death and mayhem in the beautiful city of Charlottesville, Virginia, where I spent a lovely couple of days in 1986 touring Mr. Jefferson's University. The Monster has appeared.

And who was the Monster? Not the cops. Not the army.

It was us. Private Citizens. Not the Military-Industrial Complex. Just...people.

In this way, I realized the Monster has reached out its' tentacles and assimilated the more dangerous victim. And we are at this point, in the song:

Yeah, there's a monster on the loose
It's got our heads into the noose
And it just sits there watchin'
The Army never was the Monster; I know that, because I joined the Army in 1972, and went to Germany to become part of the blocking force if ever Red Army decided to roll those tanks across the Fulda Gap. We were just a bunch of guys trying to do our jobs the best we could. No Monster there.

Perhaps, maybe, I don't know, some politicians are under the influence of the Monster. But remember this: it wasn't a politician who drove his car into a crowd. It wasn't a politician who threw tear gas; no politicians marched and chanted and screamed hatred.

Nope. That Monster was composed of Private Citizens.

I do not have a clue about the best way to fight that Monster.

But, here's what I'm going to do: I am going to continue to teach my children and anyone who comes into my house about the difference between wisdom and foolishness. I am going to love my wife, and my kids, and grandkids, and make sure they know it, because I say it, and I do it.

I will avoid known conflict points. If I hear that a demonstration is going to take place, I will not be around when it happens, and neither will my family.

And I will defend myself, and my family, and the innocent, and the weak, from physical aggression by the Monster;  and, I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

Peace be on your household.


  1. I can say that this is a strategy that was used, with success, to defang the dixiecrats, and it is non-ideological and requires a minimum of violence. Let them have their say. Turn your backs to them but keep your ears open. And when they mix in a good idea with the bad ruthlessly steal it and provide an alternative to getting the good stuff without having to buy into the hate.

    I learned this from a George Wallace interview as he complained about how both the Democrats and the Republicans conspired to kill off the dixiecrats using exactly this procedure and left them only the race issue. They withered away and are a force no longer.

  2. And TM Lutas said a true thing. You can't fight them, that just validates them. Defend yourself if attacked, and make sure that any goon who swings at you or your family takes his teeth home in a bag, but don't become them to fight them.

    Live your life as you always do, be just to everyone, be the example of the better way, and rebuild what is destroyed. That way you erase them without raising a hand in anger.