Page Two: "Trouble Comin' Every Day"
And too many couldn’t be happier about it
Currently a lot of Americans are busy hating other Americans, and many of these folks wouldn't have it any other way. What happens when there is no center, no "us" left?
Well I'm about to get sick
From watchin' my TV
Been checkin' out the news
Until my eyeballs fail to see
I mean to say that every day
Is just another rotten mess
And when it's gonna change, my friend
Is anybody's guess
– "Trouble Comin' Every Day," Frank Zappa
There is a lot of good reasonable news out there, not that much worse or even different than in the more Wild West days of American journalism throughout much of the last century. The ongoing lament that "it used to be better" rather than actually offering a qualitative assessment of news coverage really means "in my memory it used to be better." The biggest difference is that, though there have always been groups of Americans with wildly different views, there was often, actually even most of the time, a shared zeitgeist – Manifest Destiny, the Great Depression, a support of World War II, the Space Race, and even a mostly shared (with many notable exceptions) perception of the Civil Rights Movement.
Time, technology, the world shrinking as a result of media and communications, an ever-growing lack of a common perception of what it means to be an American – this now has each of us wanting the news to be cut to our ideology, to reflect our beliefs. This is not about the failure of the news media. It is about the rise of ego as a tool in defining reality at the same time that generally shared social drives have splintered: We are no longer battling a depression, an omnipotent, omnipresent foreign enemy, the national highway system is built out, and, though being infringed upon on every front, civil rights legislation has passed.
The classic blood feuds like the Hatfields and McCoys have replaced more sophisticated controversies and a grander if conflicting vision. This last election confirmed how personal, petty, tribal, antagonistic, ahistorical, and anti-historical our politics have become. And how we support media that feeds us our beliefs while despising and dismissing media that questions them.
So I'm watchin' and I'm waitin'
Hopin' for the best
Even think I'll go to prayin'
Every time I hear 'em sayin'
That there's no way to delay
That trouble comin' every day
No way to delay
That trouble comin' every day
Frank Zappa was singing about watching race riots on TV in "Trouble Comin' Every Day" but what we watch now are sections of the community protesting against other sections of the community. This time not really over war or jobs or equal rights but instead over deep and grave differences in perceptions as to what this country fundamentally is and how it functions. These disagreements are now exaggerated to intolerant declarations of truth with compromise disdained rather than desired. When the people lose their bearings, media becomes almost by definition shattered and incoherent. It is not that a common voice is lost but a common audience has entered into turmoil.
Ain't no God in Mexico
Ain't no comfort in the can
When you're down in Matamoros
Gettin' busted by the man
If I had never felt the sunshine I would not curse the rain
If my feet could fit a railroad track
I guess I would have been a train
– "Ain't No God in Mexico," Billy Joe Shaver
Recently in town recording a new album, Steve Earle spent some time talking about Waylon Jennings. Even though the new album is 30 years since Earle's breakthrough Guitar Town, the lineage he felt in creating was Honky Tonk Heroes, a seminal album by Jennings on which every song but one was by Billy Joe Shaver.
When outlaw country happened you didn't always share ideology and politics but you did share a certain perception of how to live – especially how to interact with others and live with grace and style. We may have disagreed on Vietnam but we all knew the importance of following through when you gave your word.
We fought for a world where you made your own rules and questioned everything. Only now we still question everything but in a too-easy, lazy way that allows us also not to commit to anything. We have forgotten the importance of unity; we have overly championed the importance and meaning of conflict.
In this drive we have lost each other. Empowerment has undercut the social contract. The great obligation we all share to each other is being rephrased and repositioned as a series of resentful accusations. Some don't know it, others don't get it, many claim not to care. But all in all, the most precious of gifts in the history of our world has been handed to our generation and the generations before and after us, and in some insane dash away from community and decency toward unholy visions, we are fouling it up. Maybe beyond the point of redemption. And with so many at the same time declaring an insane devotion to the document they are so severely trampling underfoot.