A lot of people didn’t get it at the time. Most still don’t get it even now. But my debut CD, American Dreams, was a concept record. It was a foray into western culture and the notion of America itself. I sliced and diced a lot of western culture up pretty good. But I also extolled the virtues of it. Because, even with its cascade of flaws, I am a fan of, beneficiary of, believer in and participant in …western culture. Everything I do is bathed in it. And if you’re reading this right now, you are probably no different.
We want to believe that wherever we are at this moment would’ve been gotten to with or without certain things we find unseemly. We want to believe there would’ve still been smart phones even if America had never dropped atomic bombs. We want to believe there would’ve still been a Los Angeles even without Manifest Destiny and western expansion. We really want to believe we would still be sitting in climate controlled buildings, sipping lattes and picking out furniture online even without the sooty, grimy industrial revolution.
I wonder if any of that is true.
I personally believe the west would be MUCH farther along technologically and societally had we ended slavery from the jump and allowed women to vote earlier. Even de Tocqueville (French philosopher, admirer of America, and planter of what many consider to be the seeds of libertarianism and conservatism) said in 1830, that slavery (aside from its moral insanity) was completely inefficient and backward for a place like America. Because it failed to unleash the free will and free thinking of an entire population of people. I tend to agree.
But make no mistake – western civilization has a checkered past at best. So, what makes it better than all other civilizations? IS it better? Personally, I believe it is. Why? Because despite its many failures, the tenants of western civilization are rooted (at least theoretically) in human free will. That’s the essence of it. Even if it has often looked like the exact opposite. And human free will gets you a story of criminals and crusaders; saints and sinners; sociopaths and scientists. And maybe that’s as it should be.
I’ve watched a couple of people die lately. And I’ve been to and helped plan a couple of funerals. And believe it or not, the one thing that has continually struck me over and over again, is the ability these people had in their lives to make their own decisions; live their own stories; follow their own paths. If you know enough about history, you know that a woman on this planet, traveling the globe of her own free will, participating in commerce and culture, owning property and having the same rights as her male counterparts – for her ENTIRE life – is an anomaly. Billions of women have lived and died without even dreaming of those things. But my own grandmother did all of those things and more …for 92 years.
I have spent my entire adult life making a living off some strange little ability I have to string words and music together. My children are being raised in a house that’s twice the size of the one I grew up in, going to amazing schools, and watching fanciful magic appear on enormous screens that are placed in every room in said house. They have never wanted for food or medicine. They are not in immediate, physical danger. They have clean water in which to bathe. And whatever heat or cold the globe’s climate dishes out is countered in their bedrooms, with vents that literally change the temperature of the air. And I have provided ALL of that to them by simply following my own talents and instincts.
Where else on planet earth and in the history of the human race can people say such a thing?
I’m getting really tired of being forced into corners to defend something Donald Trump said. There are a whole lot of things he has said that I refuse to defend. But his comments on the virtues of western civilization, in Poland, seem to be taking fire from people. And what were (at least to my way of thinking) cogent thoughts about the need to preserve western culture, have been contorted into “white nationalist” propaganda, by certain members of the press. Some people are simply not going to stop until they turn this guy into Hitler. But he’s not. And I think his points about western civilization were on point.
When 9/11 happened, I saw it as an attack on the WEST …not just America. Definitely not just New York. And THAT was the basis for my song Infidels, on the aforementioned CD, American Dreams.
Western civilization doesn’t just mean “white.” At least it shouldn’t. So many people – NOT white – have contributed to it and helped build it. And even when they may have been lambasting it, they were participating in it. It’s why I put Muhammad Ali in the second line of the song, RIGHT behind so-called “white” icons, Frank Sinatra (who was actually Italian) and Doris Day. Because while Mr Ali was decrying the country and culture of his birth, he was putting stitches in the fabric of it simultaneously …whether he knew it or not. He was becoming a shaper OF western culture. He wasn’t destroying the foundation of it.
He participated in the TV fame. He participated in the commerce. He participated in the hero worship it afforded him. And in the end …he was as much an American citizen and western leader as Thomas Edison or Amelia Earhart. THAT is the genius of the west. Free will, talent and the following of ones own vision can lead to greatness. And that greatness is – and should be – celebrated. Not concealed and consolidated into the needs of the state or the directives of the tribe.
We are in the middle of a great de-construction in this country. So many want to ONLY talk about the bad things that have been done by the west and America. And as an artist, I am a social critic and always prepared to point out absurdity and hypocrisy. But without the western ethos and a protected way of life, those criticisms get squelched and silenced and guys like me get put in prison for being trouble makers.
And nobody gets to dream dreams of any kind …especially American ones.