Tag Archives: radicalism

I hate that the title is the first thing you’re supposed to write. Sometimes I start with one thing and end with another and the title is only tangentially related to the main subject.

Two days ago, I was writing a longish post on Billy Joel. I mentioned him in a post the other day and, as I was listening to his songs, I found the lyrics, especially in his first six albums, to be far more interesting than I recalled. Everything was going well. I was on something of a roll. Lots of ideas were floating around in my head. I had about a dozen tabs open with the lyrics. A couple of others on subjects related, not to Joel himself, but to the ideas I was trying to express.

I have a huge weakness when doing creative work. I’ve never been able to make outlines. Ideas stew and churn in my brain. (Can things stew and churn at the same time? Am I mixing metaphors, or is it okay because they’re both food related?) Depending on the size of the project, the stew period could be just a few hours or it could be weeks. Then, when it all comes together, I just start to work.

Here’s the key, I can’t be interrupted, not by anything that demands mental attention. When I get onto a creative streak, everything falls by the wayside. It’s why I’m not really a loner, but I need to spend long hours, preferably days, alone. It’s why I don’t paint unless I’m dedicating myself to painting and I can paint day after day. I don’t cook. I only eat when my stomach tells me I must, and then the easiest thing to grab without losing my train of thought. I want to go to sleep thinking of my project and wake up thinking of my project. It’s as if I’ve held up my skirt and let leaves fall into it. If I let my skirt drop and the leaves fall, they’ll never go back in the same order.

When my project is done, then I have a chance to do the dishes, get myself something normal to eat, do my laundry, run the vacuum. If I’m lucky, another idea doesn’t come until I’ve at least managed a haircut. I frustrate boyfriends. I’m the feminine version of Jekyll and Hyde. One moment, nicely dressed, looking pretty, with a reasonably tidy apartment, happily accommodating to their needs. A few days later, no make-up, wearing sweats, living in a pig sty and acting as if I’d rather they’d just leave me alone.

So there I was, typing away, when my mother had a problem. Normally, a brief chatty phone call is not enough to get me off track. However, the other night and the following day, I spent hours helping her with a little computer problem. When I returned to my Billy Joel essay, I’d lost it. I can remember a few of the ideas, but I’m missing something, something that made it worth writing. Now, it’s coming out sounding like a shoddy term paper on a second-rate poet.

So, I thought I would just share with you one of the songs to which I’ve never paid much mind, but piqued my interest the other day. It wasn’t going to make it into the main essay, in all likelihood.

The main character described in “The Angry Young Man” sounds like most of the people I knew when I was young, some of whom I still know. Indeed, it could have been me from the age of about fourteen to twenty-four. Have a listen:

There’s a place in the world for the angry young man
With his working class ties and his radical plans

I really liked the phrase “working class ties.” Many of the radical kids are not truly working class, but they have “ties” to the working class. Often, they emphasize those ties. Sometimes, as in the case of one person I know, who I’ll call Rocco, they have no family ties whatsoever. His mother’s father was a large landlord in New York City. His father’s family was given a significant land grant on Long Island from the King of England. Yet, to hear him talk, you’d think he watched his father come home half-dead every night after working in the factory, not teaching at the university. He has no money now, but he doesn’t acknowledge the privilege he was born with and that his family (his parents are radicals, too) essentially frittered it away. They turned themselves into the victims they identified with.

And he’s proud of his scars and the battles he’s lost
And struggles and bleeds as he hangs on his cross

If I had a penny for every time I heard one of my associates invoke phrases like “fighting the good fight” or “the side of the angels,” I could buy a summer house out in the Hamptons and pretend I never knew a person with “working class ties” who wasn’t a servant. The important point here is the emphasis on nobly failing. They don’t look to create something that endures, which would involve compromise and working with people who don’t agree with them. No, they’re actually proud of their losses. They feel most comfortable in the position of martyr. This continues in the second stanza and a sense of isolation is added.

He’s been stabbed in the back he’s been misunderstood
It’s a comfort to know his intentions are good
And he sits in his room with a lock on the door
With his maps and his medals laid out on the floor

Note the sense of victimization. In his mind, he’s done nothing wrong, made no mistakes. If he’s failed, it’s because “he’s been stabbed in the back.”

Then comes the next stanza, which makes me feel akin to the speaker, whom I take to be Joel himself. I don’t know my musical terms, but this stanza has a different melody which sets it apart from the rest of the song. It’s less staccato, which makes it sound as if the speaker is more mellow than the angry young man.

I believe I’ve passed the age of consciousness and righteous rage
I found that just surviving was a noble fight
I once believed in causes too
I had my pointless point of view
And life went on no matter who was wrong or right

One day, around the age of twenty-four, I realized I didn’t like suffering. Actually, I guess I already knew I didn’t like it, but I decided that I didn’t want to suffer anymore. Certainly, I didn’t want to suffer futilely. Believe it or not, this had a major effect on my politics. I realized it was wrong to ask anyone else to suffer for your ideals. If I didn’t want to suffer, I couldn’t ask anyone else to do so, either. It sounds pretty simple, but, once I thought it out in so many words, I was struck by how often my radical friends either wanted others to suffer or were surprisingly blase about whether or not they did.

If the song had been just about being radical when young and mellowing and getting older, it would have been uninteresting. It was the next stanza that really got me excited. It begins, as the first and second stanzas do, with a couplet that starts with the same first line:

And there’s always a place for the angry young man
With his fist in the air and his head in the sand

Then we find what is really the problem with the angry young man. It is not that he’s radical or even angry. It is that he can’t learn, grow, develop and change.

And he’s never been able to learn from mistakes
So he can’t understand why his heart always breaks
And his honor is pure and his courage is well
And he’s fair and he’s true and he’s boring as hell

“Boring as hell.” That’s so perfect.

The first, second and fifth stanzas all end with the same line, “And likes to be known as the angry young man.” Since the fourth stanza is the only one of the four with the same format to end in a different line, it stands out in importance:

And he’ll go to the grave as an angry old man

There we feel the real sense of futility of being an angry young man who can’t change. It also makes it clear that we are not talking about the folly of youth, but radical politics. I don’t think I need to draw the parallel to some current politicians.

The final stanza simply repeats the first.




Now that the holiday is over, I’m back to reading Days of Rage: America’s Radical Underground, the FBI and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence. It’s really fascinating. I was only barely old enough to be aware of these events, so it’s sort of like being reminded of a dream you’d forgotten. The names are familiar and sometimes I even have vague faces or images associated with them, but often the details are new. You really get the sense of how idealism can go off the rails. Unfortunately, the very people who probably should read it probably won’t. I can get excited about political stuff, but there’s something in my nature that makes me pull back and ask questions before acting on my impulses. I had a friend and when we would talk late at night, it seemed we were in broad agreement on many political things, but when she started throwing bricks I distanced myself from her and her radical friends. Violent action just always stops me in my tracks.

Anyway, I’m continually struck by various sentences. Here’s one:

“Marxism even explained his wife. She wasn’t a striving harpy; she was just bourgeois.”

Far too many people on the left, while they are not liable to think of themselves as Marxists in so many words, are influenced by Marxist ideas. Black on black violence is not a problem to them because they see it as the vanguard of the revolution. Other people’s children are just a little sacrifice they’ll just have to live with on the way to their leftist Utopia.

Recently, I happened to read Tom Wolfe’s “Radical Chic: That Party at Lenny’s” from 1970. I’d read other writings of his from the sixties and early seventies and assumed I’d read that one as well. I hadn’t. If I had, there is no way I could have forgotten it. It’s absolutely brilliant. If you haven’t read it, I recommend it highly. Most of it is fairly amusing observations about high society and the behaviors of people in it. Toward the end, however, Wolfe recounts the discussion that took place about the Black Panthers’ political program. One person at the soiree, Richard Feigen, asks if there is any chance the Black Panthers might consider backing a candidate for governor. “In other words,” he asks, “are the Black Panthers interested in getting any political leverage within the System?”

The representative of the Panthers, Don Cox, explains that they have “no use” for “the traditional political arena, because if you try to oppose the system from within the traditional political arena, you’re wasting your time…. We have no power within the system, and we will never have any power within the system. The only power we have is the power to destroy, the power to disrupt.”

In a fabulous descriptive passage, Wolfe writes:

Hardly anybody has noticed it up to now, but Leonard Bernstein has moved from the back of the room to an easy chair up front. He’s only a couple of feet from Cox. But Cox is standing up, by the piano, and Lenny is sunk down to his hip sockets in the easy chair . . . They really don’t know what they’re in for. Lenny is on the move. As more than one person in this room knows, Lenny treasures “the art of conversation.” He treasures it, monopolizes it, conglomerates it, like a Jay Gould, an Onassis, a Cornfeld of Conversation. Anyone who has spent a three-day weekend with Lenny in the country, by the shore, or captive on some lonesome cay in the Windward Islands, knows that feeling—the alternating spells of adrenal stimulation and insulin coma as the Great Interrupter, the Village Explainer, the champion of Mental Jotto, the Free Analyst, Mr. Let’s Find Out, leads the troops on a 72-hour forced march through the lateral geniculate and the pyramids of Betz, no breathers allowed, until every human brain is reduced finally to a clump of dried seaweed inside a burnt-out husk and collapses, implodes, in one last crunch of terminal boredom.

After a discussion of the tensions between the Black Panthers, the churches, the “established black community” and a mention of the fact that the civil rights leader Bayard Rustin did not attend due to threats, Leonard Bernstein and Otto Preminger try to pin Cox down on what the Black Panthers are seeking.

Lenny breaks in: “When you say ‘capitalist’ in that pejorative tone, it reminds me of Stokely. When you read Stokely’s statement in The New York Review of Books, there’s only one place where he says what he really means, and that’s way down in paragraph 28 or something, and you realize he is talking about setting up a socialist government—”

Cox beings to elaborate, but Bernstein interrupts.

Lenny says: “How? I dig it! But how?”

Cox dodges the question.

“You can’t blueprint the future,” says Cox.

“You mean you’re just going to wing it?” says Lenny.

“Like . . . this is what we want, man,” says Cox, “we want the same thing as you, we want peace. We want to come home at night and be with the family . . . and turn on the TV . . . and smoke a little weed . . . you know? . . . and get a little high . . . you dig? . . . and we’d like to get into that bag, like anybody else. But we can’t do that . . . see . . . because if they send in the pigs to rip us off and brutalize our families, then we have to fight.”

“I couldn’t agree with you more!” says Lenny. “But what do you do—”

Cox says: “We think that this country is going more and more toward fascism to oppress those people who have the will to fight back—”

“I agree with you one hundred percent!” says Lenny. “But you’re putting it in defensive terms, and don’t you really mean it in offensive terms—”

After more discussion during which Bernstein talks about the Black Panthers’ feelings towards white society in psychoanalytic terms, Barbara Walters finally manages to speak, and asks the question no one seems to be willing to ask the current crop of radicals.

Last year we interviewed Mrs. Eldridge Cleaver, Kathleen Cleaver, and it was not an edited report or anything of that sort. She had a chance to say whatever she wanted, and this is a very knowledgeable, very brilliant, very articulate woman . . . And I asked her, I said, ‘I have a child, and you have a child,’ and I said, ‘Do you see any possibility that our children will be able to grow up and live side by side in peace and harmony?’ and she said, ‘not with the conditions that prevail in this society today, not without the overthrow of the system.’ So I asked her, ‘How do you feel, as a mother, about the prospect of your child being in that kind of confrontation, a nation in flames?’ and she said, ‘Let it burn!’ And I said, ‘What about your own child?’ and she said, ‘May he light the first match!’ And that’s what I want to ask you about. I’m still here as a concerned person, not as a reporter, but what I’m talking about, and what Mr. Bernstein and Mr. Preminger are talking about, when they ask you about the way you refer to capitalism, is whether you see any chance at all for a peaceful solution to these problems, some way out without violence.

this country is going more and more toward fascism… I’ve heard this refrain with great regularity. If I haunt left leaning websites, I’ll read it every single day. More and more towards fascism – for forty-five years. The slowest slippery slope known to man.

From the website The Daily Kos alone in just the month of August:

Trump’s a fascist… And his demagoguery is lifted right out of the 20th century fascist playbook

Firearm Fascism in America

Could elements of a far-right fascist movement be present in the “preventative war”-backing, conspicuously self-radicalizing American right?

The neo-fascists are not practiced in throwing poo at a real fascist.

The left is seduced by radical rhetoric, but few follow the radical reasoning to its conclusion. The bask in the glow of revolutionary postures, secure in the knowledge that they live far from any real violence.

But people who live in more vulnerable circumstances do not have that luxury. They do not want their children to be the cannon fodder of the revolutionary vanguard. While homicide rates in most of the country remains low, it has increased dramatically in a small number of cities, St. Louis and Baltimore being two of them. These are the sacrificial victims on the alter of the revolutionary dreams of the educated. The would be leaders are utterly insensible to the pain of the people they pretend to lead.

Although leftist websites are unlikely to disseminate Hubbard’s video, which has racked up over five million shares on Facebook, the far right websites which have shared her video don’t fully represent her interests either. Right now, there is no political party or movement that represents people like her, and that’s missing from our political life, much to our detriment.