Just a Good Ol' Boy
I've been reading "Life", an autobiography by Keith Richards.
And being a bit of a music fanatic, I very much enjoy reading of the genesis of the Rolling Stones, and, in fact, Keith Richards' keen insight into the development of rock and roll generally.
What I didn't expect is that this living and breathing rock and roll stereotype would have some lessons to give us as conservatives.
Firstly - on the issue of tax. As Keith Richards explains:
"The tax rate in the early 70's on the highest earners was 83 percent, and that went up to 98 percent for investments and so-called unearned income. So that's the same as being told to leave the country.Think about that, for a moment. That a government can actually increase taxes to a point where those earning income will take their income elsewhere. So. Instead of collecting 30 or 40%, you collect zero.
And I take my hat off to Rupert for figuring a way out of massive debt for us. It was Rupert's advice that we become nonresident-the only way we could ever get back on our feet financially.
The last thing I think the powers that be expected when they hit us with the super-super tax is that we'd say, fine, we'll leave. We'll be another one not paying tax to you. They just didn't factor that in. It made us bigger than ever, and it produced Exile on Main St., which was maybe the best thing we did They didn't believe we'd be able to continue as we were if we didn't live in England. And in all honestly, we were very doubtful too. We didn't know if we would make it, but if we didn't try, what would we do? Sit in England and they'd give us a penny out of every pound we earned? We had no desire to be closed down. And so we upped and went to France."
The second, more subtle lesson, however, has to do with "the man" if you will. The state and it's control over our lives.
As Richards describes the effort of the Rolling Stones to push against the confines of "ordered society", he describes his experience in dealing with, ostensibly, a charge of allowing people to smoke marijuana in his home:
"I'm a guitar player in a pop band and I'm being targeted by the British government and its vicious police force, all of which shows me how frightened they are. We won two world wars, and these people are shivering in their goddamn boots. "All of your children will be like this if you don't stop this right now." There was such ignorance on both sides. We didn't know we were doing anything that was going to bring the empire crashing to the floor, and they were searching in the sugar bowls not knowing what they were looking for."
Certainly, many hard-line social conservatives will say, "Bloody right, should have put them in jail and thrown away the key!"
How do we feel about Human Rights commissions telling us what jokes can and can't be told for fear of being prosecuted by the might of the state?
How do we feel about being told that the government should have the right to raise our children, and not their parents?
It all comes from the same place.
There is a line somewhere between the obligation of the government to provide order, preventing people from killing eachother and stealing eachother's goods - and the inclination of the government to meddle in our lives to assure THEIR version of proper order where our actions are benign except in some removed amorphous sense of "harming society".
And the sad thing, as I finish reading "Life" is that there was a moment, a brief period where the "man" was weakened and where something approaching real freedom existed. Maybe it was some point in the late 60's or early 70's - and then, like a tide, it washed back.
Now, oddly, we live in a time where we smile and hand our freedoms over to the state willingly and with great vigor. "Of course we can't have people openly discussing their prejudices and fears - those are too subversive to allow in public discourse, better that we all pretend to be "enlightened", even as we allow our own ignorance to flourish, like fungus in the cellar, away from public view.
Hunter Thompson saw the same thing, and in a passage from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which I have quoted in this blog before, he expressed that same crushing defeat of "freedom":
Strange memories on this nervous night in Las Vegas. Five years later? Six? It seems like a lifetime, or at least a Main Era—the kind of peak that never comes again. San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run ...but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant ...Many conservatives will disagree with me.
History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of "history" it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time—and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened.
My central memory of that time seems to hang on one or five or maybe forty nights—or very early mornings—when I left the Fillmore half-crazy and, instead of going home, aimed the big 650 Lightning across the Bay Bridge at a hundred miles an hour wearing L. L. Bean shorts and a Butte sheepherder's jacket ...booming through the Treasure Island tunnel at the lights of Oakland and Berkeley and Richmond, not quite sure which turn-off to take when I got to the other end (always stalling at the toll-gate, too twisted to find neutral while I fumbled for change) ... but being absolutely certain that no matter which way I went I would come to a place where people were just as high and wild as I was: No doubt at all about that ...
There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or La Honda .... You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning ....
And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave ....
So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark —that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.
They will attack the gun registry, but welcome with great vigor the building of new jails and imposition of manditory minimum sentences from our current government - none of which programs have any substantive evidence behind them to suggest they will make us safer.
They will wail and moan over the injustice of our arbitrary and largely unaccountable Human Rights police, yet fail to come to the aid of homosexuals and others who merely ask to be left alone to live their lives on their terms as long as they aren't harming anyone else.
We live in a time where "the man" has taken back the reigns. Except, in our time, they haven't done it at the point of a gun or with threats of jail. They have talked us into handing them over, willingly, and happily.
And, yet, there are some.. perhaps like Keith Richards, who can still provide us some glimpses of insight into our own folly.
Something to think about.