From my upcoming book, December:
Shame As A Future Necessity For Society
The newspapers have published the value of Lou Reed’s estate, two-thirds of which was amassed post mortem, because financially, a poet is worth more dead than alive, period. At the time of death it totaled 10 million, but now is up to 30 million and rising in value every day.
In my opinion 10 million dollars was no huge sum for one of the greatest poet-musicians to ever have struggled on planet earth. One whose work was also distributed world-wide, and potentially revered by anyone who has ever loved.
That is saying a lot. And it is true. He worked. He gave. He lived and left a modest estate compared to others of equal stature on the world stage who strutted publicly in order to make a living.
My grandfather was a state engineer who, by thrift and more thrift, left an estate equivalent to what 10 million would buy today. Enough to put five grandchildren through private colleges and universities, and provide a life without financial worry for my grandmother. So Lou left what amounted to a frugal engineer’s legacy, when he could have sold out like any corporation puppy dog—the Bob Dylan in every one of us creative feelers, who jones for the opportunity to make a killing if ever the chance arrives.
Lou wrote and gave melody to this:
“She said ‘Some where there’s a far away place
Where all is ordered and all is grace
No one there is ever disgraced
And everybody there is wise
And everyone has taste’”
Lou wrote hope and conscience poetry. In his will he left a percentage to his wife and sister, the latter to use the money to take care of their ailing mother.
This is all very good news to me. Creative careers matter; disproportionally low, financially compared to more traditional ones, but on a potential money level, equal to what the upper middle class would be able to amass carefully over time. Successful accountants, lawyers, even speculating land men could leave an estate equal to Lou’s if careful with investments over the years. A couple I know by association, the Millers, who I use often in my writing to juxtapose the crap shoot of capitalism in America, have already reached Lou’s legacy and beyond at just middle age. I compare their surface life story to Lou’s to make a point about the turning point in evolution of our species.
I had a puppy crush on the wife Barbara Miller when she was a young girl. Beyond that, I know nothing more than what her mother has shared with my mother who tells the Miller’s stories to me from time to time. She enjoys their shock-entertainment value. I use them as anecdotal evidence of why I believe society needs to reinvigorate shame as an effective deterrent to our decent into chaos and a new living hell that awaits.
Barbara works light. She is the president of a local bakery corporation her husband purchased to spare her from a life of boredom. Larry Miller is a trained lawyer who buys property very low and uses his influence to receive local and state government help, whether it be to build a new road via eminent domain through a farmer’s working hundred year old apple orchard, or twenty years of tax breaks offered to the strip mall franchises leasing Larry’s properties. He brought his town the best Walmarts and Gander Mountains money can buy, and in a dwindling economy, helped turn his struggling neighbors into a subsistent army of minimum wage soldiers. Financial success has come to the Millers. Already world travelers and proud owners of three homes, one in Florida where their gardeners trim Rose bushes next door to Jon BonJovi’s hired men. Neither Barbara nor Larry cook or clean, and their children are going to good colleges.
Their assets, I surmise, were about equal to Lou Reed’s at the poet’s time of death.
That is where their comparison ends—at the means to an end. And here is where I hand out rotten fruit to my countrymen still capable of discriminating between a life living the confusion of love and one that worships wealth.
What type of personality truly loves a strip mall? Who drives down a car-congested boulevard overflowing with personal well-being on his way to pick up soap and camping gear? All of us partake in the present economy. Rich or poor. Even Barbara finds fantastic deals at Kohl’s or Target from time to time. Her husband provides the community with easy shopping, often leading to or exacerbating bad taste, normalizing consumerism, and ever widening the gap between adulthood and fulfillment. He enriches himself via a routine that is of the lowest level. He is winning the culture war because each of us (including both Larry and Barbara) are also mentally deranged to a similar degree.
Well distributed poets such as Lou Reed, heal from time to time, when hearts are open and aloneness is welcome. Clear Channel knows this. That is why poetry is not sung over the airwaves. It is anti-business. Getting drunk and screwed is okay, just don’t be prepared to think with a conscience. So Lou’s lyrics and melodies sneak through because during a weak moment as a young man, he wrote and recorded “Take a Walk on the Wild Side,” and Candy was giving head, so all the young people begging for content began to think their local DJ was rad, when it was really an established media choice made by the top dogs at headquarters to include Lou on their drinking and screwing party play list. So Lou got “cool” overnight and abandoned to obscurity even quicker because he chose to pursue his inner genius rather than promote meaninglessness for a lifetime. He made more than enough money preaching poetry backed by melody. And he did it without licking boots, a near miracle in this time of celebrity worship.
Our family made a trip yesterday to Barnes and Noble, another Larry Miller strip mall creation. A necessary evil to book browse for our daughter’s Fall reading suggestions. As always, I made a bee-line to educational materials, Rose to graphic design, and our daughter straight to the shelves stocking the latest manga. Opposite my aisle was a table stacked with books. The sign on it read, Books that make you think. On it were works having nothing in common besides the fact that reading them might exercise our brains, and also seek the counsel of our consciences. Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five beside Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. One anti-war, the other anti-segregation. Both displaying the very ugly side of humanity. Books with a moral philosophy to uphold, harboring meaningful content, piled high on a reserved table. Some corporate upstart with a fresh idea. “Books to make ‘em think, Charlie, or at least pretend to think while nursin’ a chocolate coffee in our Internet café.”
What kind of author ever penned a novel or the like with the intention not to make people think? Initially, even Stephen King and John Grisham set out, I’m sure, to receive thoughtful response from their readers. Of course they failed, and in that failure found fame and fortune. No irony with a Time to Kill spotted in the back seat of a Prius parked at an Outback. None at all. It is exactly what should be expected from a John or Jane Doe who allow a Larry and Barbara Miller to build upon wealth and status initially realized by failure of conscience. They believe it awaits them too, as long as John and Jane continue to seek purchasing solace along the strip mall of Anytown, America. Slaughterhouse Five spotted in the car at an Outback, however, is not only ironic, but very dangerous to the future comfort of a Larry and Barbara Miller. Two cars a conspiracy, and needing only three aiding and abetting Vonnegut at the same Outback to make a declaration of revolution, a strip mall stripped of all Chinese do-dads, and the Millers shamed out loud at all future public appearances.
To my logic, consumerism cannot be a healthy mutation for our species. From the standpoint of evolution, it might suggest an imminent leveling off, a massive culling to a point of near extinction. High greed and low greed are still greed, which in itself is anti-growth. My obvious reverence for the artist Lou Reed does not elevate him morally to a position much higher than the Millers. He just made a wiser career choice because he left something good of himself that was so much more than charity wrought from guilt, which is the only good the Miller’s will ever be able to pass on. Lou Reed created thought through poetry and shared it with music. Sure there was the rough stuff—broken backs and used vials washed up on the beach. But his work is also pregnant with love, justice and morality. He left the like of strip mall parking lots full of used cars each stuffed to the torned-fabric ceiling with shaming ammunition. It’s worth 10 million dollars for him, but it is humanity’s mission to use it.
Larry and Barbara Miller need to be shamed. Not in my lifetime, I’m afraid. Americans are so polite. I quote the entirety of “Tripitena’s Speech” from Lou’s 2003 release The Raven to get the ball rolling for tomorrow’s morality revolution. It will either come dressed peculiarly American or ugly like Mao. Best to begin training our minds now for the changes to come. Synapse pathways need to realign.
“Tripitena’s Speech” by Lou Reed
The king by any other name a pissoir
You, my love tower over them all
They are but vermin beneath your heels
They are monkeys
Suit them, frame them to your own vision
But do not let one false word
Of mockery seep through to your vast heart
I have seen you from close and afar and your worth
Far exceeds your height, your width
The depth of your sorrow
Oh willful outcast doth thou not see the light of our love
Our linked fortunes
Our hearts melded together
Into one fine golden braided finery
They listen to the music of idiots and amuse themselves
With the sordid Miseries of their businesses
They are not the things of angels
Nor of any higher outpost that humanity might aspire to
Your loathsome vomitous
Businessman king is of the lowest order
Crumbling mockeries of education driven by avarice
Dress them in the suits of mockery
And in their advanced state of stupidity
Burn and destroy them so their ashes might join the compost
Which they so much deserve
If justice on this earth be fleeting
Let us for once hear the weeping
And the braying of the businessman king
Let them be the the orangutans they are
And set them blazing from the chandelier for all to see
Hanging from the ceiling by their ridiculous chains
And petticoats which you will have them wear
Under the guise of costumic buffoonery
He who underestimates
In time is bound to find the truth sublime
And hollow lie upon the grates of systemic disorder
You’re not worth shitting on