Tuesday, July 19, 2005


Notes on what is left of the 'underground'

I'm not often visited by ghosts. In fact, I've only seen one or two, tops, in my life. But last night, under a full moon so bright it could light up the Kansas flatlands (come to think of it, it probably did), my good friend, now departed, Jack O'Brien, appeared to me. He was wearing a silk shirt and was clean shaven and quite solid for a ghost.

"What has happened?" he asked. "I've been looking around and it seems everything has gone commercial."
"Yeah, man," I said, "there's not a trace of renegade art left."
We were alluding to, of course, the "underground," that formless place that used to be the home of daring authors, musicians, painters, poets.

"Jack, it's a shame but there is little left." "I'm so sad," he said. "What happened?"
"Well," I said, "I think it was the internet. A world-wide pastiche of every Tom, Dick and Harry showcasing stuff that can be seen from here to China. There is no room for the underground any longer."
Jack began to cry. I didn't know ghosts had tear ducts, but there he was, weeping like a child. Jack was from the old school, the pre-internet days when ramblin' writers published poetry and drank Bourbon and sang protest songs and just about pissed off "the institution." He was soul-sad that the institution has taken over, that the forces of anti-art have faded and aren't even as clear as a ghost.

In those days of the underground there was angst, there was reason, there was ... "light brighter than this moon," Jack said. "What has become of the subterranean way of life?"
"You tell me, Jack ..."
He said: "It isn't a matter of age or generations. There is a great inbalance these days. Too much is in color; too much is up or down. There is no substance. Music has been accepted at every level. Communism is dead; it was a greater enemy than terrorists in its own way. The Beat Generation is dead. I know, I see those guys at the Saturday evening meetings upstairs. And there are too many TV stations, too many genres, too many special effects in movies, too many musicians who cannot play with feeling as much as they can play with speed, too many cars, too many colleges, too many self-help books--one is too many . . .
"There are too many newspapers, too many web sites, too many technicians, too many people who jump on to bandwagons, too many religions, too many patriotic songs, too many items in the stores labeled 'light,' too many catalogs, too many credit cards ... it goes on and on and on. And there are not enough people who will ignore the norm, it's all the norm, it's all superficial. Even the Mafia is gone and with it went crime with values. No, I mourn the underground, but I am glad I am not here with you. Here, these days, the fluff rules, the pulp engorges and the dynamics, well, the dynamics are gone."
"So, what do we do?"
"Without an underground there is no foundation. When everything is on the surface it cannot withstand the weight. It will all collapse, it will all fall into a big heap of dung and smell up the joint, I mean it is already stinking up here. No wonder the villains of today have such power."
He said goodbye and was swooped up by the big fat moon.

As he left, I heard him utter, "Remember that is not the moon up there. It is God. Winking."

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