One recent afternoon, out of a moderately gray sky dangling like a steel scalpel over Monterey Bay, the tawny owl appeared in near total silence, as he often does, on a solid branch of an oak tree under which I was gazing at nothing that I could explain or describe.
He would later admit that he had come to more closely check out some disturbing guttural sounds that were emanating from my innards. I think he was investigating the likelihood of a trend developing. But at first, he revealed nothing. The silence that only an owl can maintain rushed like theoretical strings through the still air.
I kept my mouth shut. I may be blind and deaf by the standards of the tawny owl, if not my own, but I am not dumb in the way you might be thinking.
Finally, when it was clear he was good and ready, the tawny owl asked in a way that sounded much like a demand, if not a threat, with his claws wriggling auspiciously like snakes,”When you hear Muddy Waters sing, I’m A Man, or Otis Redding sing I’m A Lover, do you get up off of your ass and dance?”
I was surprised, thinking, what the fuck have I been doing here all these years?
“C’mon,” I said, although it may have sounded like a pouty whine from a little crybaby, “You know I do. You’ve seen me often enough.”
When he at first did not respond, I exclaimed, “You just don’t want to give me any credit for knowing anything at all.”
I know that women love to rise up and dance like wildflowers and queen bees when Aretha belts out Respect. I know that sentiment does not exactly constitute a big, burning hunk of love, but it’s a lot of what makes America get up in the morning. I know that men tend to have a lot more to hide and are thus far more reticent to expose their nasty asses, but they do know a toot or two about how and when not to blow. I also know that the women who get up for Aretha almost invariably believe, and devoutly, that the song is all about them, as it surely seems to be, even though it was written by Otis, not only a man, but the man.
Then, to make matters worse, the tawny owl continued to speak as if I had said nothing in my own defense at all, or worse had nothing to say. Archly, he hissed, “How about when James Brown demands, ‘Dance And You’ll Feel Better’?”
This was too much. I don’t think I am out of line in insisting that I know as much about James Brown as the tawny owl. I know that James Brown is statistically the most famous and influential American in the history of the world. Even more so than Muhammed Ali. Doesn’t that mean he knows best? Shouldn’t there oughta be a law? I know there should be.
I said, “I’m going inside.”
He said, “No you’re not.”
I said, “What if you’re wrong?”
He laughed and said, “You’d be the last to know.”
Wrong, I thought, but dared not say out loud. I may not be first to know but I know that does not make me last. I know that when I hear the indisputable nitty gritty wisdom of r&b before the money changers befouled the temple with an excess of electro-magnetism, I have an obligation to get up and rise. I know that we all have to come up for air. I know that everybody wants to talk and nobody wants to listen. I know that we all got to have it sometimes, even if I don’t know it, or what it is, or could be.
In America, we pretend to have politics, but what we have is a legal system of influence peddling. Money starts the toes a tapping on even the tone deaf and the country club footed. And astonishingly, it somehow works out that the peddlers write the laws. The processes at work are lubricated by crude oil, corn oil, palm oil, champagne, fire water, sugar water, jello pudding, crazy glue, and gun powder.
The claim often heard is the founding fathers meant it to be that way. I know that can’t be true. I know that they only wanted to be free. So do I. I don’t think they knew any more about how to do it than I do. Is it not true beyond a shadow of a doubt that these were the same dudes who excluded 100% of the dudettes standing at their sides and came up with that rancid three fifths baloney that was so hard to swallow?
If James Brown is the most famous and influential American of all time, why isn’t his dancing ass on the front of a ten dollar bill?
I know one thing for sure. Corporations may be people to you, at least until it comes time to pay for their crimes, but how can you say they are Americans?
Mick Jagger used to sing, “What can a poor boy do?” He overlooked the contradictions in favor of the obvious, which is the ultimate paradigm, and a major source of the irony that grips us all so cozily in sitcom comfort. That’s true even for the truly poor.
It’s not hard to rationalize like a motherfucker.
It’s hard to know what to do but there’s nothing new in that.
I know that for sure.
The tawny owl, as usual, remains unmoved, by my twists of logic.
Do you believe it’s best to let bygones be bygones?
What happens when your bygones come back to bite you on the ass?
COMING SOON: GET IT WHILE YOU CAN