The Ten Cuts: Five Songs Tied to Five Moments, Part II

Since I had real trouble cutting my list of songs tied to moments to a mere five, here are the others that I wrote, but were cut out of the final list. I wrote it, so I’ll be gosh–darned if I don’t post ’em.

Honestly, how can you keep a list like that to five? It’s just unrealistic. Music is an indelible piece of our personal histories. Were we trained by films to seek out music to play in the background? Was Mozart just transcribing what was in his head when he went to the market?

As for the records: Albums would be a whole other list entirely.
Read More of the Additional Songs and Their Memories »

Five Songs Tied to Five Moments

Total Eclipse of the Heart

The music of the 1980s was pretty great, to be honest. The hair of the 1980s was pretty awful.

Well, someone answered the call from The Problem With Lists with a good one. (The Clone, naturally.) He did put this idea to me a while back, and I’ve just been too distracted to give it fair thought. But some of it has processed and I’m just going to lay it out here. Besides, I have to give credit where it’s due: it’s a terrific idea.

So without further ado, here it is: a list of five songs tied to five key moments in my life.

As I’ve done before, I’d encourage Agent Bun to stop reading.

Read More Musical Musings »

Vic Mackey

On Pain of Torture

Vic Mackey

Bald, stocky, irascible, morally conflicted, anger management issues...I can relate to why women found him irresistibly sexy and charismatic.

Well, it’s what everyone is talking about, so what the Heck.

Did we get bin Laden’s location as a direct or indirect result of torture? Would you support torture if you “knew” it would lead to bin Laden’s capture or demise? Is torture justifiable in certain circumstances, even if your own moral code supposedly goes against it?

It’s a question that’s permeating our entire culture currently, as we engage in a War on Terror that features a nationless enemy – or, at least one without an official home – a global threat and a zealotry that is hard to understand for secularized cultures. People who have been raised in a tradition of “Do Unto Others” find themselves suddenly justifying acts they found ethically distasteful at a minimum, due to extreme circumstances.

In the wake of statements that the death of Osama bin Laden was fruit born of a first seed of information spilled from “enhanced interrogation” techniques, the conversation has heated again. Guantanamo Bay remains open, even though it was sworn to be shuttered by the President while he was campaigning.

Everyone is forced to consider, is torture at least “sometimes” justifiable?

An awful lot of our entertainment has this question in there. LOST had an episode where they tortured Sawyer because they thought he had information, which of course he didn’t. The Shield featured at least one torture scene per season, with Vic Mackey clearly supporting the idea that the ends justified the means. Batman Begins and The Dark Knight very much examined the question of what’s a reasonable limit, and is it ever acceptable to abandon it?

For the Record

I oppose torture. My moral upbringing, my religious faith and my own sense of ethics prohibit me from supporting it. But I think that the question, “Do you support torture?”, is at best a misleading question in the current times.

The better question is, “How do you define torture?”

There have been reports that the US has employed sleep deprivation techniques and playing I Love You (the Barney® theme song) repeatedly as a way to “break” prisoners. The only reaction I can have to that tactic is, “SFW?” Have a kid or two, not only will this happen but you’ll come to enjoy Barney® in some small way, even if the thought threatens you and you have to jump on the popular meme that you can’t like Barney. At least you don’t have to worry about your kids when they’re watching, and he keeps his lessons concise.

But to be honest, I’m also OK with psychological games. It’s like poker. I might not have a winning hand, but if I can I’ll bluff my way through and convince you that I do. I don’t consider it torture to disorient someone and trick them into spilling something, or pushing them to a mental limit that cracks their resistance.

Gary Busey in Lethal Weapon

He will tear out your endochrine system.

But what limits do you place on it? Obviously mind games won’t work on the fanatical or the brainwashed.

So is it even possible to have a “restrained” torture guidebook, where in Situation X, it’s okay for Gary Busey to break out the car battery and Al Leong?

Slippery Slope

Everyone’s hypothetical is, “What if someone kidnapped your kids?” That’s an unfair argument, because emotionally you can justify anything. If someone touches my kids, I could wind up justifying a nuclear attack on their grandparents. The challenge is that, as was once said by someone wiser than I, we are a nation of laws, not men. The laws are in place to keep me from going after someone who has personally wronged me in a vengeful manner. I acknowledge that if someone had my kids, I’d bring the Wrath of God upon them and they’d better pray that someone stood between me and them.

And you become a monster/So the monster will not break you.
Peace on Earth, U2

A scene from Taken

I not only related to the movie, I chuckled.

Seriously, there’s a reason that every father (especially one with daughters) loved the movie Taken. Because we can completely relate to popping those safeties off to save our little princess. (Of course, my daughter isn’t going to be stupid enough to get into that mess. Sharing a cab with a stranger in a foreign country with no resources? Daddy’s going to have a smarter girl than that, or I’ve failed.)

You can also use “results” to justify a whole lot of sins, or to reason out a lot of actions to “redress” sins against you. I don’t think that the torture discussion is even really about torture, but about allowing ourselves to relax our standards. That requires a dedication to moral relativism and as I’ve established in previous blogs, I’m no fan of it. As a believer in the Slippery Slope of ethics and morals, taking even a tentative step is a huge risk.

But…

When things result in the end of an evil man, when the world arguably becomes a better place as a result of questionable actions, it’s hard not to excuse a lapse from an emotional perspective. The challenge is to be able to look at emotional situations in a detached, logical fashion.

Is it possible to do that? When the threat is so terrible and ever-present?

I think we can, but the rules must be very clear and we have to be willing to tolerate extreme measures within a reasonable definition.

But what’s that definition, and who gets to set it?

Why Van Halen Was Better with Sammy Hagar

Pound for pound, Van Halen was at one time one of the greatest musical groups alive. They helped lead America out of the Disco era and into the eighties, when tremendously talented acts like Journey, U2 and Ozzy Osbourne roamed the arenas with abandon. It was back when Bruce Springsteen was still relevant and at the top of his game.

People often make the mistake of thinking that I dislike the “early years” when David Lee Roth was the lead singer. This is untrue. I’ve loved the music of Van Halen from their self-titled debut album to Balance. Not every effort was perfection, but every one was worth a listen.

David Lee Roth

Really?

For goodness’ sake, 1984 was literally the first album I continually stole from my brother’s record collection. It’s not my fault he couldn’t find a better hiding place. I was a nine year old boy hungry for music more expansive than the Ghostbusters theme. My older brother, whom I idolized (and some might argue I still do), feathered his hair and wore parachute pants. Maybe this music he listened to all the time was the key to understanding why that was cool.

Needless to say, my grubby little hands found Van Halen and suddenly the world was an open, fresh summer day. I would put the tape in the tape deck I stole from his room whenever he went to work, go out to the front yard and play with my Star Wars action figures as Eddie Van Halen screeched his guitar across the scales.

Of course I’d pretend I didn’t steal it and then use Mom and Dad (especially Mom) to defend my innocence. It’s not my fault I was a little douchebag, David Lee Roth had shown me that it was all right to be a douchebag.

Limits of Love

But the love I have for the early Van Halen has its limits. When I listen today to a song like Everybody Wants Some or even Panama, those spoken-word ramblings from Roth often make my skin crawl. The music was plenty fine, there was no need to hear the feather-haired spandex-clad lead singer adamantly proclaim his heterosexuality. Constantly. We get it, dude. You like to go pick up chicks and have sex.

This doesn’t mean I dislike the David Lee Roth ramblings. I just like them in a certain context, the same chord struck as watching an old movie you might have a reason to love despite its limitations (I’m looking at you, Star Trek V.) David Lee Roth’s Van Halen belongs to yesteryear. It doesn’t age like Journey’s rocker ballads or U2’s anthems. Unlike Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love, I won’t play it a little too loudly when the kids are home.

It’s not just because I have daughters. It’s because I’m not a teenager anymore.

Deeper Meanings

When 5150 came out, the first album with Hagar, I was no longer a nine-year-old douchebag, I was a twelve-year-old jackass. But I was a questioning jackass, trying to make sense of the new emotions and experiences I was having. I was, as anyone going through that time is, confused and overwhelmed. I switched schools, an outcast in a very tightly-knit group of kids. My Grampy and Grammy had died, my first experience with all of those confusing feelings. My dad had suffered a heart attack and had heart surgery, and that one’s tough to get through even though he survived.

I needed something hopeful on which to hang my hat.

5150 was that thing. To this day, I can put on that album and every care drifts away. It’s OK to listen to that music loudly, too, as its libidinous drive is couched in questions about love and destiny. Deep, meaningful questions that lifted it out of the simple chasing-for-action sensibilities of the late 1970s and into more relationship-focused thoughts. There were songs about keeping love alive and compromising for the sake of it.

Dreams, of course, remains one of the unassailably perfect rock songs of all time.

Broader Horizons

Even though it doesn’t get as much love as other efforts, OU812 asks questions about life, love and the world. When the songs talk about getting away or resolving problems, it’s about staying with that special someone, not picking up stakes and moving to greener pastures.

It also opens with my favorite song that Van Halen ever released. Mine All Mine, a song about self-reliance and perseverance through the questions you’ll face about faith and life, remains a song that deserves a lot more love than it gets.

For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (see what they did there?) is one of those rarities in early 1990s rock albums: nearly perfect. Balance might be an acquired taste, but it still has more hidden gems on it than Diver Down and Fair Warning.

The Final Question

Sammy Hagar

To be honest, I have a hard time recalling a picture or a concert where I didn't see this guy smiling like he was just happy as all get-out to be doing what he was doing. I think the only times I saw him unhappy were on the cover of OU812 and when Eddie kicked him out of the band.

The final question for me is personality. Maybe I should be “better” than this, but it matters to me if the singer leading the band seems like someone I’d like to know, or at least go out to get a beer with him. David Lee Roth fails that test. The guy just comes across as a self-obsessed jackass, who’d c-block you every chance he got until he went home and stranded you at closing. Sammy seems like the kind of guy who’d take you out, pick up the check and make sure that everyone had a good time.

Yeah, that matters to me. Sammy seems grateful to the world for his good fortune, whereas Roth seems like someone who thinks it was owed to him. Maybe that’s the key to the personality shift in the band after Hagar joined. Maybe that’s why I’ll always be more likely to be listening to Carnal Knowledge at the gym than Van Halen II.

Why I Love U2

Recently I was with a friend and he put on his Blu-Ray (what else would he have?) copy of the U2 360° tour disc. It was a fun chance to relive a bit of the concert, as we had the good fortune to see it when it came to FedEx Field. (Sidetrack: how sad that since the Washington Redskins changed to FedEx, there’s only one football memory I have that equals the concert memories.)

So I started thinking about what I think about U2. They’re sort of the quiet favorites as I’ve never gone as nuts for them as I’ve gone for other bands (The Doors), but they’ve managed to sneak past others (Van Halen) on the list of bands I hold closest to my heart.

So why is that? Simple answer is that it’s never gotten stale. They’ve never hung it up for 10 years and come back for a ‘reunion tour’. They seem legitimately to be friends with each other, even though they obviously lead individual lives. Maybe that’s the difference; they have lives outside the music.

The other three band members don’t appear to resent or vie with Bono for attention – he’s the front man, he’ll say what he says and they don’t try to outshine him in the advocacy game. The advocacy has a universal appeal – they haven’t done anything (unlike Springsteen, for instance) to alienate half of their fan base in a desperate attempt to stay relevant; the causes they support are things that anyone would support. The only safer path is to be like The Rolling Stones and just not give a s*** about anything other than being a band — which also I respect. But basically, the band’s collective mouth doesn’t run faster than its metaphorical brain.

Which is surprising because, as I observed to a friend the other day, they regularly play to crowds of nearly 100,000 people, all of them shouting praise of them and listening to their every word/note. How is it that they have avoided the trap other bands with success is have fallen into? When you think of how long that list is, I guess it makes sense that they would resonate with someone like me, for whom authenticity resonates most strongly.

This is not to say that Bono doesn’t occasionally say a stupid thing. It’s to say that he keeps it generic enough that it’s not going to sour anyone’s perception of the band or the music.

They’re not afraid to talk about God. As someone of a deep and tested faith, who wrestled with it his whole life and wrestles with it still, the fact that there’s a rock band that makes music about that very thing – as opposed to fleeting ideas of lust and success – and does it well…well, that’s just one more argument to love them.

Now, I’m sure that there are some who would not consider me a “deep” fan. I know nothing about their personal lives outside of the generics that the average person knows; but I do know that there are no salacious rumors or splashy divorces. No Brazilian love nests and no discoveries of giant drug networks. And I don’t get the sense that there ever will be; at least I sure hope not. If I were to find out a member of U2 was into something ridiculously insane, I’d be lying if I said it wouldn’t rock me to the very roots of faith in people.

All that and the lyrics are still good. The music is still fresh. It took some time for me to warm to it, but even their latest album, No Line on the Horizon, has given me more than a few that are in heavy playlist rotation. “Moment of Surrender” speaks to something deep within and “Magnificent” is one of those ones I don’t think I’ll ever be able to explain, like “City of Blinding Lights” or “Yahweh”.

So yeah, I’ve gone there. Seems silly to write about a band when I’m 35 and shouldn’t care so much about music. But in this case I can’t help but heap praise on a band that not only has outlived and outlasted so many others…but deserved it.