Happiness is a Cigar Called Satan
"It's not much of a cheese shop is it?"
At what point do you look at say William S. Burroughs and Charles Bukowski as geniuses and at what point do you look at them as junkie and an alkie respectively?
I mean that seriously.
If you're familiar with either one, have you ever taken a moment to weigh either side of that particular coin?
Don't get me wrong, as fans of either of those authors probably have already, I like the both of them. Not only did they fairly prolifically churn out interesting work over considerably long careers considering their addictions, they also led fascinating lives in many respects. That is, unless you're on the side that they were nothing but a junkie and and an alkie, in which case you've likely written them off altogether.
Anyhow, it's not so much the quality of their work or their lives that concerns me as it is their fans. It's not even necessarily their fans either that bothers me, as it is fans of most anyone who lives that kind of lifestyle and produces materials that draw those fans. What's worse is those who try to emulate those lifestyles in order, they believe, to be able to find the "enlightenment" that spurred writers like Burroughs, etc.
Let's start with the fans who are merely fans and don't seek to do anything beyond emulating their heroes for some kind of enlightenment. Have you ever known anyone like this? People who dress and act and read books on and watch movies on and collect CD's on and so on and so on chasing after their favorites? What you realize as most sad after a while (if you stick around long enough not to get utterly bored or fed up with their fanatacism for this one person) is that they aren't living a life of their own. There's two basic problems at work here. One is of the newsflash variety: "You are not (Fill in Artist, Musician, Author, Celebrity Here), and you never will be. They have/had their life, you have yours." It's scary how this just doesn't sink in isn't it? Assuming you could get them to listen to One, there's the rationale of TWO: "Those people led interesting/provacative/insane/kooky/creative lives because they went out there, made their choices, and led their lives. Also, I doubt that ever once, other than trying to be intentionally shocking from time to time, did they do it selfconsciously cool. They went out to be themselves."
I'm sure some of you have already left the room, and there's more out there who should've but who are too self-delusional to realize it.
There's a long tangent I'm going to introduce that I'm not going to go into as fully as perhaps I could. I don't believe in leaders and followers, at least not in the traditional terms. Now I've oft been reffered to as a leader by family and peers, but I've met plenty of more alpha-folks who I've bowed down to in their superiority of one thing or another. I think it's all a matter of degree. Each person is just more or less of one or the other, but I think it would be an incredibly odd and rare person who really was in the exact middle between the two.
In that sense, I would find these people to be really high in the Follower category because they're not so much dominated by a person as they are by a personality or more likely persona. (I tend to believe that most any person of any kind of regularly recognizable fame to create a persona of one kind or another.) One can't even say it's a role model as they aren't usually trying to be like the person as they are trying to be the person.
So that's my take on the non-productive variety.
The productive variety tend to emulate the sources of their fandom toward producing some great work achieved through enlightenment attained through the same way.
I remember thinking in high school back during The Doors revival heyday, "When the hell did all these @$$holes become Jim Morrison?" More importantly I thought "And why Jim Morrison?"
Again, I like a good amount of the music produced by The Doors. My familiarity allows me to partially answer that first question. I can see where the leatherclad, deep voiced woman-killing "poet" wild man would be alluring to both teenage boys and girls alike. I've got eyes and I've got a brain, so I can process these things. I say partially answer because I also know about the end of his life where he spent most of it as a drugged out bloated and bearded jerk. I always wanted that shot on the cover of some of those Morrison "poetry" collections they'd publish. I keep using quotations cause I read one of these things and flipped through others at the time and I'm not sure I can list that as poetry. I'm no poetry snob by any means, but that stuff was an endless parade of repetitive, redundant, and cliché garbage that everyone once and a while would produce something like a cool song lyric. (Take Doors' song The End. That I liked. Read enough of the "poetry" and you'll see the same imagery over and over and over again only not as good.)
I guess I'm not sure why in the end Elvis gets recognized as the fat druggy slob and Morrison doesn't. Perhaps most unfortunate is Jerry Garcia who lived long enough to be an embarassment to anyone who wasn't a Deadhead. Not to be too mean to Jerry, but once upon a time he seemed like a pretty sensible and well-meaning guy who eventually kept piping garbage into his veins when he should have realized looking at many others in his generation what a charmed life he truly had to live as long as he did. The only reason I mention it is that the Grateful Dead have/had that rather obvious following of people whose sole purpose in life was to make it to shows and stay effed-up.
Of course, rock musicians are the bottom of the barrel on that negative road to enlightenment as far as being entry-level and easily found. Movie and TV people would probably be second (Newsflash: Knowing every fact about the life of Stanley Kubrick will in no way make you Stanley Kubrick.). Artists would probably be third (and sadly one doesn't need an iota of artistic talent to emulate a favorite nor to foist talentless crap on the world). Last would be the authors and the intellectuals who I wanna discuss now and to close this out.
Because there're less of these guys and gals, because their stuff is more esoteric, and because they're "intellectuals" of course they're the biggest @$$holes.
Let's take a couple of my favorites that come up in this category.
The more easily recognized by the mass public is the Marquis de Sade. I'm not gonna say anything directly negative about de Sade's person or character like I did for the above though I could. In fact, I respect some of his more philosophic views and find him a fascinating historical character. I would not, however, have any interest in meeting him, nor would I have any interest in following the practices he advocated.
The funny thing about de Sade is that his fans live more on his legend than the reality of his life. For the most part, other than writing dirty literature and spending most of his life in jail for those writings, he didn't do a whole lot. He certainly wasn't out performing any of the activities listed in The 120 Days of Sodom on any regular basis. Even among the nastiest of aristocracy, that sort of thing would have been noticed.
Now of course the SM scene which sometimes pretends to be more intellectual than it is (or more freaky) tosses his name around, but I've met few who knew anything about him. And though many of the practices of SM certainly predate de Sade, it wasn't as though a scene exactly existed as it did today. (In fact, would such a scene exist if it wasn't for the all-connecting internet being able to connect folks of like and kinky mind?) Furthermore, if you know something about de Sade and looked at any HBO special on SM, you'd probably make the same educated guest that de Sade would consider these folks largely way, way below his contempt.
On an intellectual level, no one seems to be in on the joke. For one, though the Marquis was certainly a master of inventing sexual perversions, he was not a master of writing. His books become horribly repetetive, and after the fifth priest fouls some sacred object in some orifice of some virgin turned harlot, it ceases to be shocking. Still disgusting, yes. Still shocking, no. Not to mention the fact that for all his heresy, blasphemy, and atheism he parades around, nearly every one of his stories is a morality play. You do evil, and you're gonna get punished.
If anything you have to extrapolate meaning out of his work, or you have to peek into some of his letters and whatnot. Most I know aren't willing to do this or don't have the capacity or patience. They'd rather wear the legend and tout the bullsh!t. Most of these "Sadean" scholars I've dealt with were either too chicken to try the hard stuff or too pedestrian to really try and understand the man or his context.
What a segway into my next subject, though I admit I don't know as much about him, but then again neither do the people who I've had bring him up. I'm talking about "the Beast", Aleister Crowley.
Again, Crowley is one who you can take away bits of insight from. There's a method and a philosophy there to be seen if you strip away all the dirty surface nonsense like the drugs and the magic tricks. It's not to say that Crowley was any less a wild man than my man de Sade, it's just that he's another whose fans function on legend more than fact. Also, it's not to say that I don't believe in spiritual forces and the potential for 'magic', but Crowley's life was a little too much of a bachannalia of sex and drugs for me to take the "prophet" bit seriously. Any life lived to such excess is probably gonna yield some hefty "visions", but probably nothing more telling or prophetic than your average doped up rock star gets. I think the reason Crowley's came out more clearly is that he was more the intellectual than your average rock star, the ideas were there, they just came in the form of ancient space gods.
Again again, like de Sade, Crowley's forays into fiction are juvenile at best, but his ability to sell himself and his beliefs have a touch more skill. So if you wanna do Crowley, definitely do Confessions ("non"-fiction) over Moonchild (fiction). I've only read excerpts from that autobiography, but it defintely came across better than the other one.
Ultimately my point is that there is something that can be learned from these two, but it's not what most people go for. And their "evils" are a lot more mundane than their followers would have you believe. I think their descent into "darkness" was the path to their enlightenment, but why would anyone need to trod a path that's already been covered? To me, at least they went down the paths with their own open eyes, and not as some acolyte blindly following after them.
In the end all of this is a paradox I enjoy:
It's been said that Inferno is the most interesting part of Dante's Divine Comedy and Paradiso the most boring, and that Satan is the most intriguing character in Paradise Lost. The reason behind this is that evil is always more interesting to humans that good, and ugliness more intriguing than perfection. However, if you begin to look at murders, thefts, arson as evil on statistical levels and less personal levels or if you look at the murderers, and so on, you find that it rapidly becomes very routine, boring and about as intelligent and evil as a instinctive programming of a praying mantis female biting the head off the male. Shocking, yes. Evil, like true evil...well, I don't think so.
Take most Satanist literature or music, it's got the imaginative range of a Daisy Air Rifle. Though obviously, Satanists are taking a negative path in life, it's still to build them up and fill them with a sense of power. As boring and "deep" as most mainstream Christian literature is, there are a few who've had a better take on evil than most Satanists do. In fact C.S. Lewis's Screwtape Letters more or less states in the conclusion that the worst evil is the banal day-to-day mundane petty crap, it's the one you notice least, and the one that breaks your spirit worst. Course that brings to mind that there are people who revel in being "evil" and are happy as much as there are people who try to live in blissful optimism, but either way, being on a downer either way is gonna kill you.
If you're gonna emulate anything, at least take the time to get an objective understanding of your subject.
To play my own devil's advocate for a moment, I know that I'm supposedly chastising everyone for being a bunch of blind dummy followers. My advice here would appear to be: Be An INDIVIDUAL! Trod Your Own PATH! Be a WINNER! However, I realize another two important facts. For one, the truth is, there are only so many paths you can take. Mine, for instance has always been to know as much as you can aobut the paths that interest you, but sample as many other paths as you can. I can't be the only person throughout the billions of people who have lived to take this path, I know it, and I'm okay with it. Hey, knowing your constraints is a path to freedom (How's that for deep?). Second, I said before that there are followers, and there always will be. So no matter how much I rail against it some yo-yo is gonna go grab a Kurt Cobain T-shirt and think he's on the path. After all, how many people have thought they were the second coming of Jesus?
I don't know if I made my point, exactly, but I sure had fun spouting off my mouth.
I'm leaving. No rest for the wicked.