Are You Mad? The Five Signs of Lunacy

If you’re anything like me, you occasionally wonder if you are going insane or, perhaps, are already there.  “Insane” isn’t really the right word.  That’s actually more of a legal term, requiring some sort of adjudication of your condition. Few of us will ever reach the point that such measures are necessary.   Madness and lunacy are much better terms.  Regardless of whether you call it madness, lunacy, bonkers or just plain crazy, we all think about it from time to time.  (We don’t?  Hmmm.  Maybe it’s just me.  That’s not good at all.)

In any event, I have identified certain markers of madness that may benefit others.  These tell-tale signs should be used as warnings  that we are close to veering off the path of the well-balanced into the median of lunacy.

I have had experience with all of these at various points in my life.  In fact, I’ve had days where I’ve experienced them all.  Those were not particularly good days, by the way.

I must qualify all of this by disclosing that I am NOT a mental health professional.  Indeed, I have no medical or psychological training whatsoever.  I am particularly unqualified to diagnose any condition or to offer any advice regarding appropriate treatment.  So, should you actually be a lunatic, do not contact me for advice.  In fact, don’t contact me at all.  You could be dangerous, you know.


Have you ever thought that you are a very important person, a VIP as it were?  Now, I’m not talking about being important to your family or friends. Don’t confuse this with being important to your dog, either.  Your dog thinks you are the lead dog.  If you think you are a dog, that’s another set of issues altogether.

I’m talking about general importance.  Your opinions are important, for example.  If people disagree with you, it is an outrage.  They are fools, because you are always correct.  Those who disagree with you are Communists, racists, homophobes, anarchists, ne’er do wells, welfare queens, robber barons or many other such disagreeable sorts, depending upon your particular view of the world.  These people lack your intelligence and insight.  They don’t know as much as you know.  Not only are these people wrong, they–and the rest of us–MUST know your opinion on everything for you are important and must be heard.

Chances are that you are like most us and only want to listen to people with whom you agree.  It’s likely–almost certain, in fact–that the only people who want to listen to you are those who share the same views as you.  Everyone else doesn’t want to listen to it.  Sorry, but that’s how it goes.  If you can’t accept that, madness lurks just around the corner.

Have you ever had the urge to say “Don’t you know who I am?”  I know I have.  Sadly, I’ve even said if before–and not just to myself, either.  Perhaps, if I were–say–George Clooney that would make some sense.  But, if I were George Clooney people would actually know who I am, and I wouldn’t have to say it.  Even thinking that is bad.  Thinking it may be even worse, because you might believe people do know who you are when they really don’t.  Then, you just walk around thinking that you shouldn’t have to stand in lines or wait in traffic or pay your bills or wear pants.  Maybe, we all should say it out loud every now and then just to be reminded that they don’t know who we are and don’t care.


This could be a subset of the first sign above.  Your job may actually be important.  If you’re a firefighter, cop, oncologist or teacher you certainly have an important occupation.  People depend on you.  That is a good thing.  Don’t confuse that with your job making you important.

I am a lawyer.  I think that’s an important job.  My clients depend on me to get them the results they want.  Each case I handle is extremely important to those folks.  Many people don’t think much of lawyers.  We rank slightly above crack dealers and slightly below pimps in the public’s view.  Used car dealers and insurance salesman are viewed largely the same.  Yet, we all think we’re important.  The painful truth is that a lot of people can do our jobs just as well–and even better–than we do.

Mathematician/Philosopher and all-round know-it-all Bertrand Russell once said that one of the signs of an impending nervous breakdown is the belief that your job is extremely important.  He was a lot smarter than I am, but I’m not sure that’s correct.  What I am sure of is that the belief that ME doing that job is extremely important is a bad sign.

I’m not irreplaceable.  Neither are you.  If you think you are, try this:  Go in to your place of business and quit.  I did that once.  Guess what?  They were fine without me.  Someone else started doing the stuff I had been doing, and everything continued on as usual.

I’ve worked with people who died unexpectedly.  People were really upset, some because they were human beings and others because death disrupts the workplace, what with the grieving and funerals and what have you.  Soon, though, we were trying to figure out who would get the deceased’s furniture or office.  Some of us were concerned that we might have to do more work.

So, the reality is that if you die at work, someone gets your credenza.  That’s it.


We all know that hearing things can be a bad sign.  Auditory hallucinations cause much trouble in the world.  Rarely do we read of “voices” saying things like “Have a good day” or “Be nice to someone.”  Usually, it’s stuff like “Eat that dog” or “Wear her skin as a vest.”  These voices–at least I’ve been told–seem real, so we do as they command.  If you’ve got that going on, for God’s sake, do something about it.

There is other stuff you can hear.  God, for example.  I’m not talking about something like a friend saying “God spoke to my heart.”  That’s a kind of metaphorical observation that means “I got this feeling.”  We’ve all had that.  I mean God actually talking and you possibly talking back.  Think of it like this:  God went silent late in the Old Testament.  Why would He start talking to you?  If it’s because you are really important, re-read my comments above.

Maybe the radio talks to you.  If you’re driving down the road screaming at Sean Hannity, that’s a problem.  He can’t hear you.  Perhaps you think 1970’s singer Dan Hill is crooning to you when you hear Sometimes When We Touch on the Oldies station.  He isn’t.  I used to think Olivia Newton-John was singing to me.  I don’t think that anymore, unless I’m watching Grease.

You may have pets.  You may love your pets more than any human.  Good for you, but they don’t talk.  Even if you talk to them in exaggerated baby talk that would embarrass any self-respecting infant, your dog or cat isn’t talking back.  If they do, just Google “Son of Sam” and stay far away from me.

Oh, don’t confuse this with seeing things.  There many benign explanations for this phenomenon–strong drink, drugs, poor lighting, etc.  Don’t worry about this unless the things you see start talking to you.


There’s nothing wrong with medication, assuming it’s prescribed and you need it.  Cymbalta, Wellbutrin, Zoloft and the like have done a world of good by altering troubling brain chemistry.  If you stop taking it, though, we have a problem.  This is especially true if you’re taking any sort of anti-psychotic medication.

When people start feeling better, they don’t want to take their medication anymore.  They are, in their dysfunctional minds, “cured.”  Here’s what you should do:  The day you stop taking your medication, note that this is the day you start down the road to full-blown lunacy.  You might even want to mark it on your calendar.


We don’t need to belabor this point.  Suffice to say that if you believe in any vast conspiracy that has remained secret for many years, you are not firing on all cylinders.  Here is a just sampling of topics about which you may believe a conspiracy exists:

  • The moon landing
  • 9-11
  • Marilyn Monroe’s death
  • Elvis Presley’s death
  • Bob Denver’s death
  • The Kennedy Assassination
  • Barack Obama’s birthplace
  • The firing of the original Darren on Bewitched
  • Anything involving a “New World Order”
  • Area 51
  • Communists
  • Big Foot
  • Yeti
  • The Knicks winning the 1985 NBA Draft Lottery

This list could be 10 times longer, but we’ll stop for brevity’s sake.  There may be conspiracies peculiar to your own circumstances.  For instance, your child may do poorly in school.  You may believe that this is a result of teachers, administrators and fellow students conspiring against your child.  Consider that your child may not be very bright or could be down right lazy.  It happens.

Try this.  Go out and see if you can line up 10 people you know for or against anything.  It ain’t easy.  Imagine now that you were wanting to kill someone with their help.  Not likely.

Just repeat to yourself each day:  There are no conspiracies.  If you hear a voice repeating it back to you, well, you know.


These are the five markers of madness.  You’ll notice that I didn’t delve into actual mental illnesses such as bipolar disease, schizophrenia, depression and the like.  Again, I have no medical training.  These specific diagnoses are best left to the professionals or you can easily diagnose yourself by searching on the Internet for your particular symptoms.  Here is an educational video to help you better understand such diseases of the mind.

There is good news.  Any one of these peculiarities, standing alone, is likely no more than a sign that you are weird or–if you are wealthy–eccentric.  Two or more, sadly, point directly to crippling lunacy.  You may be fortunate and become pleasantly mad–like many town characters throughout our great land.

It’s time to stop–at least that’s what the voices are telling me.  You know how pushy they can be.

© 2013

Hometown Loyall-ty

I’m told that I had a bad upbringing.  Oh, no one says I had bad parents, mind you.  Nevertheless, I had it bad.  Why?  I grew up in Eastern Kentucky.  Apparently, that’s bad.

I’ve written about Eastern Kentucky before and probably will again.  I haven’t lived there in three decades, but it is as much a part of my life today as it was then.  It’s home.


I grew up in Loyall, Kentucky.  Here’s where Loyall is:


Exactly where is THAT?  As I told a guy who picked me up hitchhiking, it’s three miles outside Harlan, to which he responded “Where the hell is that?”  Harlan is the county seat of Harlan, County, Kentucky in the Eastern Kentucky coalfields.  When I was growing up, about 40,000 people lived in Harlan County.  Today, that number is closer to 30,000 and dwindling everyday.

Aerial view of Loyall today.

Aerial view of Loyall today.

The first thing to know is how to pronounce “Loyall.”  It’s not LOY-al, like the word “loyal.”  It’s kind of like “Lole.”  More accurately, it’s pronounced “Lowell” but without the “w.”

Harlan County is known for two things:  Coal mining and stone cold bad asses.  There’s not nearly as much mining  as there used to be and there never were as many bad asses as people thought.

Here’s what I can tell you about in which I was raised:

  • I always heard it was named after a railroad executive.  That might be true.
  • It had around 1,000 residents when I was a kid.  The welcome sign now says 776.  Frankly, that might be a bit of stretch.
  • Loyall consists of two parts:  Loyall and Old Loyall.  Old Loyall is exactly what it sounds like–the old part of Loyall.
  • The CSX Railroad Yard is in Old Loyall.  When I was kid it was the Louisville & Nashville Yard.  A lot of people in Loyall worked at the yard.
  • Trains ran day and night out of the yard hauling coal out of the county.
  • We had one traffic light.  It’s still there.
  • We had a full service gas station (long gone now).  They’d fill your car, clean your window and always ask:  “Check that oil for ya?”
  • We had a soda fountain, The Corner Store.  It sat on the corner, of course, by the traffic light.  They had fountain drinks and excellent hotdogs with chili.  They also had a pinball machine.
  • We had a movie theater until I was about 6 or 7.
  • We  had a barber, Gene Harber.  Very nice man.  He always asked “How do you want it?  ‘Bout the same?”
  • The Cumberland River ran through Loyall and washed us away in 1977.  Thanks to the largesse of the federal government, the river now runs through a man-made channel so it won’t flood.  Of course, they cut the town in half for that bit of high-tech engineering.
  • We had a school.  It was Loyall High School until the late ’60’s and then became Loyall Elementary and Junior High.   It still stands but hasn’t been a school for several years now.
  • We had a post office, City Hall, Fire Department and Chief of Police.
An artist's rendering of the Corner Store adorns my law office.  This was done from an old photo.

An artist’s rendering of the Corner Store adorns my law office. This was done from an old photo.

In other words, it was Small Town, USA.  You knew your neighbors and lots of the folks in town.  We slept with the windows open and the doors unlocked.

I must confess that I was not raised within the city limits of Loyall.  I spend my first twelve years in Rio Vista, a neighborhood just outside Loyall.  I spend the last years on my childhood on Park Hill which overlooks Loyall.  Still, we thought of it as Loyall.

I lived in this house until I was 12.

I lived in this house until I was 12.


I thought it was a pretty good place, but I learned differently.  My first lesson was when I attended the University of Kentucky.  I talked funny.  Evidently, I had (and have) an accent.  That’s weird because I never noticed it.  I did know people at home with heavy accents, but I wasn’t one of them…or WAS I?  I was also a redneck, at least by Lexington standards.  Trust me on this one, but I was NOWHERE close to being a redneck by Harlan County standards.

I took a class at the University of Kentucky called “Appalachian History” or something like that.  It was taught by an odd fellow who had visited Harlan County on several occasions.  He had read Harry Caudill’s book Night Comes to the Cumberlands. He had been to Evarts (where my father grew up), which he pronounced EE-varts.  So, he was some kind of an expert.

I was told three things that I didn’t know:

  1. I was the victim of abusive Robber Barons who operated coal companies.  OR I was the victim of a well-meaning but misguided government which institutionalized poverty.  OR both.
  2. As a result, I lived in stifling poverty.
  3. It was likely that I was too ignorant to comprehend points 1 and 2.

I had a substandard education and health care.  Bad teeth, too.  Inadequate clothing.  Wow.  You’d think I would have noticed some of that, but I didn’t–maybe all the inbreeding made me less perceptive.

Later, after I graduated from the University of Kentucky with degrees in Finance and Law, I continued to learn about my homeland.  It was a bad, bad place.  Bad coal.  Bad government.  Bad drugs.  Bad, bad, bad.

Eastern Kentuckians, it seems, can’t take care of, or think for, themselves.  Others, though, can do it for them.  They need help.  Here’s why:

  1. Schools are horrible.
  2. Health care is horrible.
  3. Everyone is poor, even people with jobs.
  4. All the unemployed people are victims of something or other.
  5. Everyone is a drug addict.
  6. There is no drinking water.
  7. There are no roads that can be driven on.
  8. The people aren’t smart enough to know that they are unhappy.

Honest to God, it sounds like Somalia.  How the Hell did I survive?


Fortunately, I grew up in the Real World.  It wasn’t a perfect world, mind you, but it was far from what was (or is) portrayed.  Imagine if your hometown–whether small town or large city–were always portrayed according to lowest and worst performers.  I now live in Lexington, Kentucky, the self-proclaimed “Horse Capital of the World.”  We have about 300,000 people here, but it’s a college town at heart.  It’s a nice place to live, and I’ve enjoyed raising my family here.  We don’t promote Lexington by showing our homeless shelters, the rundown shotgun shacks that litter downtown, the hobo jungle or our public housing projects.  If we did, one would wonder why anyone would set foot here–except maybe for the horses who wouldn’t know any better.

I like Lexington, but honestly I don’t see it as being that much better than Harlan County.  Lexington has poor people–a lot of them.  Unlike my life in Harlan County, I don’t see them here.  They don’t live near me.  My kids might go to school with them, but they really don’t socialize with each other.  That’s just how works.  You won’t see Lexington’s homeless shelters, unless you go looking for them.  The last time I went to one of them, I saw two men I know–LIVING IN THE SHELTER!  I didn’t know anyone who was homeless in Loyall.

In Harlan County, there was no insulation.  Your friends might live in poverty.  I had a good friend who lived in a housing project.  Housing projects in Harlan County are no nicer than anywhere else.  His father was chronically unemployed.  It didn’t matter. We were friends. Same with my friend whose father was illiterate.  He was a good man.  He just couldn’t read and write at any functional level.  I don’t see that here in Lexington, not because it doesn’t exist, but because it’s well-hidden.

My friends’ parents included teachers, railroad workers, government workers, politicians, coal miners, coal operators, dentists, barbers, doctors, lawyers and just about every other walk of life in the mountains.  Both of my parents were college graduates.  That certainly was not common in those days, but I was hardly the only kid with that distinction.

Growing up, we lived like kids.  Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Little League Baseball, school, dances, romances, fights and all the rest.  I have raised two sons to adulthood and have been surprised how they occupied their time much like we did–chasing girls, hanging out with friends, watching TV, all the while complaining about having nothing to do.  Like my kids, we had all the teen angst that exists everywhere else–wanting to leave our small town, broken hearts, drinking, drugs and general teen mayhem.  We just happened to be in Harlan County while it was going on.

We played Little League in Harlan County.  Your author is on the front row, far left end.

We played Little League in Harlan County. Your author is on the front row, far left end.


There were plenty of people who had hard lives in Harlan County and elsewhere in the mountains.  Poverty and unemployment rates have always been high and, in the remote parts of the county, people could live bleak existences.

As far as I know, my parents weren’t related to each other.  I did know a guy who married his cousin, but I know someone who did that in Lexington, too.  That kind of thing is frowned upon everywhere.

Did I know people who didn’t have indoor plumbing?  Yep.  I had an uncle in Pike County, Kentucky who had an outdoor toilet until the mid-70’s. By the way, my wife’s grandparents had an outdoor toilet, too.  But they lived in Franklin County, Kentucky, home of our state capital.  That’s not as sensational as one in Harlan County.

Did I know people on food stamps?  Yes sir.  I also knew people whose only goal in life was to “draw a check,” our Harlan County way of saying that a person just wanted to be on the dole.  Some did. My Dad called them “people living off the grid.”   They were cautionary tales.

Did I know any criminals or, as we liked to say, “outlaws?”  You bet–a bunch of them, too.  My Dad had a friend who killed his own father-in-law.  The guy who lived across the road from us served time for attempted murder.  For a time, we lived next door to a notorious bootlegger. I knew a bunch of people who’d been shot.  Like I said, it’s a small place.  You don’t get to hide from people.

Some parts of our county were so remote that most Harlan Countians never saw them.  Jones Creek, Bailey’s Creek, Smith, Black Star, Holmes Mill and many such places were well off the beaten path.  Still, those folks went to church and school and had jobs–a good number of them, at least.

The funny thing, though, is that the overwhelming majority of folks I knew didn’t fit these extreme profiles.  Most people had jobs and took care of their families.  Some families, like mine, had two working parents.  Like parents everywhere, most wanted something better for their children and tried to help them.  It was nothing unusual, just typical American life.


Have things changed since I left Harlan County?  Of course. Time changes everything.  When I grew up, good jobs were fairly plentiful.  That’s not the case today.  The economic base in Eastern Kentucky is shrinking and may well not recover.  The population continues to decrease and is likely to drop precipitously as the Baby Boomers fade.  We didn’t have the prescription drug scourge that has devastated Eastern Kentucky in the past few years.  Regardless of the changes, on my frequent trips to the mountains, I see the same sorts of folks I knew growing up.  These aren’t characters from a Norman Rockwell painting nor are they the “salt of the Earth” or any other such overblown characterization.  They’re just good, solid people for the most part.  They don’t see themselves as victims nor are they trawling for handouts. They’re just living their lives as best they can.

I had an uncle who was fond of saying “Mountain people have mountain ways.”  He meant that there were certain things about life in the mountains that were different–and not always different “good.”  For instance, a lot of people threw their trash in the river.  If we had high water, you see it hanging in trees when the river receded.  We use to have a county trash dump on the side of mountain.  No, it wasn’t a landfill.  It was exactly what it was called–a big, stinking trash dump.  People would line up on the side of the road and shoot the rats.  It was really fun, but you don’t see that everywhere.

Now, as then, some people don’t take care of themselves or their families, either.  They don’t go to the doctor or dentist or do much else.  They pretty much live like their ancestors.  Some of us might  have called these folks “trash.”  I’ve never been any place in this country that doesn’t have its pockets of trash.

Of course, like anywhere else, some people are born into bad circumstances and struggle.  Sometimes, they can’t overcome that.  They aren’t bad people.  They just start life with two strikes against them.  That still happens.  Everywhere.

Are some of my memories skewed by the prism of nostalgia?  Of course.  My father used to rail against people talking about the “good old days.”  He would then talk about Harlan County in the 1930’s when he grew up.  He always concluded with “There were no good old days.”  Fortunately, I don’t have those memories.  I remember the good people and the nice life we had.  Like a lot of people, I didn’t appreciate it enough at the time and probably spent too much time wanting to “get out.”

You may have never been to Eastern Kentucky, and this may not make you want to even visit.  You may have lived there in tough times or under bad circumstances.  Maybe your memories are not fond.  Consider this:  People from every part of this country have the same experiences.  Perhaps we should condemn their culture or treat them all as victims.  I leave that to you.  All I can tell you is what happened to me and most of the people I knew.  We were alright.

© 2013

The Zen of Nothing


I live in Kentucky, and it’s been raining lately.  By “lately,” I mean daily.  Constantly.  It keeps me indoors.  It keeps my children indoors, too.  As result, I’ve been thinking–or trying to think, but I’ve got nothing.  Zip.  So, I thought I’d write about that.

Why write about nothing?  Any egghead or self-important jackass can write about something.  Lord knows I have.  Just read some of my blog posts.  One might argue that many of those are about nothing, but I disagree.  Just because something doesn’t interest you doesn’t make it nothing.  It’s something, albeit something uninteresting.

Nothing gets a bad rap.  (By that, I mean “nothing,” not that nothing gets a bad rap.  You know what I mean.)  You don’t want to do nothing with your life.  Or be a “nothing.” Or learn nothing.  Or accomplish nothing. Or have nothing going for you.

During these rainy days, I’ve had nothing to do, so that’s what I’ve tried to do.  Nothing.  One day I slept until 10:30.  I thought that was doing nothing.  Then, I realized I hadn’t slept that late in years.  That was something, for sure.

My family has had nothing to do, either.  I haven’t seen my 18-year-old son in days.  He wanders in late, sleeps until noon and then leaves.  He has to be doing something, but I’d rather not know what.  My wife has had nothing to do and has talked a lot about it, thus filling her nothingness with talk.  My youngest son says he’s “bored,” but actually has been doing a bunch of stuff.  If my oldest son is bored, he has said nothing about it.  Nothing.

By habit, I’ve always asked my kids what they learned at school.  They always say “nothing.”  That’s hard to believe, but maybe it’s true.  The only exception was when my middle son–now 18 years old–was in preschool.  We asked him that every day, and every day he explained what he learned in great detail.  Dinosaurs, the planets, zoo animals, cars and many other things.  His brother, only two years older, had attended the same preschool and learned nothing.  We were so impressed that my wife called the teacher to commend her.  She paused and said: “All we’ve talked about are colors and shapes.”  I give my little man credit.  He already knew his colors and shapes.  He didn’t want to say he learned “nothing.”

Now that my two oldest sons are grown, I’ll ask what they’ve been doing.  “Nothing” is the standard answer–just plain nothing.  I don’t know how they do it, because God knows I’ve tried.

I’ve tried to do nothing lately.  I’ve watched the rain, but I guess that’s something.  During this rain, I’ve watched a lot of The Walking Dead Marathon on AMC.  My wife says that’s nothing, but it isn’t.  It’s something.  TV is something.  Why else would I stare at it?  Staring is something, too–not much but something.

I’m a lawyer and, despite what you might think, we think a lot.  We think like lawyers.  We think about our cases, clients and the law.  We think about money, too.  Sometimes, we even get paid to think.  That’s called “analyzing.” When I’m not at work, I like to relax my brain, and think about nothing.  That’s hard to do.  Even when I think about nothing, something creeps in.  Sometimes, it’s sex, but that happens even when I’m thinking about something.  Even when I watch TV, I’ll find myself thinking about something.  A couple of nights ago, I was watching a rerun of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo–mindless entertainment for certain.  Suddenly, I was thinking about how much Mama June looks like Fat Elvis.  Then, I started thinking about how I heard that Elvis died with sixteen pounds of impacted feces inside him.  Then, I thought about that.  Next thing you know, I was thinking about all kinds of things.

Even though I’m a man, I like to take baths.  My wife says that’s a decidedly feminine activity.  So be it.  I’ll lie in the tub and let my mind go blank.  Nothing.  Then it happens.  Something creeps in.  Maybe I think about someone bursting in and throwing a toaster in the tub.  My penchant for falling asleep in the tub might make me think about drowning in the tub, which seems unlikely but certainly can’t be considered impossible.  Often, I think about a bath being feminine and about my other feminine traits, like sitting with my legs crossed or the occasional trip to the tanning bed.

Bed time is a good time for nothing.  Think about nothing and go to sleep.  I can’t do that.  I have to think about something.  Usually, I think about all the noise being made in my house while I’m trying to go to sleep.  Sometimes, I ponder falling asleep.  That will mean that I won’t fall asleep for a good, long time.

Lately, though, with all this rain, there’s been nothing to do.  My eleven year old son has complained about it.  So has my wife.  Nothing.  Yet, we’ve all done something–eat, sleep, TV.  My wife went to a friend’s house. I took a nap today.  My wife calls that nothing, but she’s wrong.  It’s something.  It’s a nap, and I enjoy it.

I had nothing to do today, so I went to the store. Something.  I filled my wife’s car with gas.  Again, something.  I sat on our screen porch and looked at our two rabbits–Mitchell and Mollie.  Now, they do nothing.  They eat and then sit and stare.  Then they eat again.  They are like eating throw pillows.  Watching them, though, is something.  It’s close to nothing, but not quite there.

I often look forward to a day off work so that I can do nothing.  Yet, I always do something anyway.  I might read the newspaper or go to Starbucks or, of course, take a nap.  Those somethings fill up all the nothingness.

Bruce Springsteen has a song called The Nothing Man.  It’s dark and depressing, and so was I when it was released.  I used to listen to it quite a bit, but I didn’t think about nothing when I did.  I thought about something–most likely something dark and depressing.

So, here I am with nothing to do while it rains.  Nothing. It makes for long days, but that’s a good thing.  Life goes by way too fast anyway.  As Joseph Heller wrote in Catch-22, making one’s life last as long as possible is the whole point of life.

I’ve determined that there is no nothing.  Everything is something, even nothing.  This blog post, for instance, might be a total waste of time, but you read it.  So, you did something.  I wrote it, and that’s something, too.  We’ve both done something, and we can be proud of that.

© 2013

Five Songs That Make Me Go “Hmmm…”

Like most folks, I like music.  I don’t like ALL music, but I like a lot of it.  If an auto-tuner is involved, I don’t care much for it.  Otherwise, I’m pretty open-minded.

I’m not a deep person, and my shallowness extends to my musical taste.  I once read that Angus Young of AC/DC described his song writing as “getting from one rhyme to the another.”  AC/DC is one of my favorite bands.  Their songs rhyme (mostly), and they flat ROCK!  Good stuff.

Occasionally, though, a song fascinates me not so much by the music, but by the lyrics–the story of the song.  Here are five that fascinate and confound me:

COWARD OF THE COUNTY by Roger Bowling and Billy Ed Wheeler

You know this one, made famous by Kenny Rogers.  It tells the tale of Tommy, a cowardly nebbish who has been cautioned by his late father to disavow all violence (Promise me son not to do the things I done….).  Tommy’s father it seems died in prison while serving time for unspecified acts of violence.   The song’s narrator–brother of the incarcerated father–tells the tale of Tommy’s life of non-violence and the hideous consequences of it.

Tommy’s Dad impressed upon him that walking away from violence was the true measure of a man.  Weakness, he urged, was not found in turning the other cheek.  How wrong he was!

Because of Tommy’s Ghandi-like vows, his true love, Becky, was subjected to a brutal gang-rape by the Gatlin Boys, a group of ruffians who were sure that Tommy would do nothing to stop the attack.  Well, they were right about that; however, Tommy then went on the vengeance trail and beat the Hell out of all three Gatlin  Boys.  The song leaves it to the listener to determine the outcome, but I believe that he beat them all to death–at least I’d like to think so.

The lesson of the song?  Non-violence will get you picked on and called names (Coward of the County?) and get your girl friend raped.  Violence, on the other hand, solves everything.

This story was so compelling that someone made a movie about it starring, of course, Kenny Rogers, as a preacher (!). So, there’s that.

I haven't seen this, but I'm sure it was heinous.

I haven’t seen this, but I’m sure it was heinous.


This classic of Alt-Rock was written by members of REM.  I’ve listened to it about a thousand times and have no idea what it’s about . It starts out like listening to someone recite their Facebook post (That’s me in the corner. That’s me in the spotlight, losing my religion….) and then drifts into a stalker’s rant (Trying to keep an eye on you like a lost, hurt and blinded fool).

Ultimately, it sounds like Michael Stipe is talking to his therapist:  Consider this: The slip that brought me to my knees failed.  What if all these fantasies come flailing around?  The song concludes by speculating that all of this may well be a dream.  Okay.


Jimmy Webb is a great songwriter.  He wrote Wichita Lineman and a bunch of other good songs.  No list of odd songs is complete, though, without his classic, MacArthur Park.  I know MacArthur Park is in Los Angeles.  Otherwise, I’m completely lost.

It’s the story of love gone bad told through the allegory of a cake sitting in the rain until the icing runs all over. ” Someone left the cake out in the rain… I don’t think that I can take it ’cause it took so long to bake and I’ll never have that recipe again…”  The singer’s love–like that cake–took so long to develop that there is no way it can happen again… or something like that.

Beyond the bizarre mescaline-induced lyrics is the fact that Richard Harris made the song famous.  Richard Harris was a great actor and a shitty singer.  No range.  Off-key.  He sounds drunk.  He also says “MacArthur‘s Park” throughout the song.  THAT’S NOT THE NAME OF THE SONG!  Then there’s the part in the middle that sounds like it came from a completely different song.  It’s all just plain weird.

I couldn’t find a link to live performance by Richard Harris, but here is a link to Dave Thomas of SCTV as Richard Harris singing MacArthur Park.  It’s pretty close to the real thing.  By the way, Donna Summer covered it a few years after Sir Richard.  She sang it much better, but that didn’t reduce the weirdness of it any.

As an aside, I once had a secretary who had a photo of her and Richard Harris on her desk.  He looked drunk in that photo.


Ah, the rag man draws circles up and down the block

I’d ask him what the matter was

But I know that he don’t talk

And the ladies treat me kindly

And furnish me with tape

But deep inside my heart, I know I can’t escape

Thus begins this Dylan classic which clocks in at over seven minutes.  It’s hard to say what Bob was shooting for here, but it’s a catchy mess of a song.  The imagery contains Grandpa shooting up a fire, Shakespeare wearing pointed shoes, someone punching a cigarette and smoking eyelids and other disconnected thoughts.  The Grateful Dead used to cover this in concert.  I guess it makes more sense if you’re wasted.

This song has to be about something.  All Bob’s songs are about something, aren’t they?  What is railroad gin? Texas medicine? How do you steal a post office?  Why did the Senator hand out free tickets to his son’s wedding?  Why did the preacher have 20 pounds of headlines stapled to his chest?   Who are the neon mad men?  What price DO you pay for going through all these things twice?   Did all this strange shit happen in Mobile?

If I had to guess, I’d say Bob was tired of everyone saying that all his songs had deep meaning, so he just wrote a long song full of disconnected lyrics.  It’s pretty good, though.

MONGOLOID by Gerald Casale

Those of us of a certain age remember the New Wave band, Devo.  They were not particularly talented, but they were odd which was all that was required for air play in the early 1980’s.  They wore rubber/vinyl suits and pots on their heads.  They didn’t so much sing as sort of chant.  It wasn’t singing, and it wasn’t rap.  It was Devo.

The boys from Devo sounded just liked they looked.

The boys from Devo sounded just liked they looked–like a bunch of corn-fed Buckeyes.

Devo had a number of fairly popular songs:  We Are Devo, Whip It and a bizarre cover of Satisfaction.  Their strangest song is a vile number called Mongoloid written by Devo bassist Jerry Casale.  Now, the title alone tells you this will be different.  By the 1980’s, “Mongoloid” had drifted from the medical to the pejorative, much like “idiot” and “moron” of an early generation or “retarded” today.

The song tells the story of man suffering from a chromosomal disorder who manages to live a normal life.  As the singer tells it:

And he wore a hat

And he had a job

And he brought home the bacon

So that nobody knew

That he was a Mongoloid, Mongoloid

His friends were unaware

Mongoloid, he was a Mongoloid

Nobody even cared

On some level, I suppose this is inspiring.  This man overcame his disability to have a job and be a productive member of society.  Apparently, all that was required was the donning of a hat.  While one might question whether this is a realistic portrayal of intellectual disability, it’s hard to criticize the sentiment, despite the politically incorrect title of the song.

It’s not the title or even the substance of the song that get me.  It’s the fact that it’s pretty catchy.  I won’t link to it here, because I don’t want to hear it.  Why not?  Because it gets stuck in my head.  You can search for it and listen if you want, but be forewarned:  It will burrow into your brain.  Don’t blame me if you find yourself involuntarily singing:  He was a Mongoloid, a Mongoloid…. If people hear you singing that, you’ll lose friends, as well you should.

Oh, despite Devo’s weirdness, the members aren’t British.  They’re from Ohio.  Buckeyes.  Go figure.

AQUALUNG by Ian and Jennie Anderson

This is a classic song by Jethro Tull.   Jethro Tull is not a person.  It’s a band fronted by Rock’s greatest flautist, Ian Anderson.  Ian and his wife, Jennie, wrote Aqualung.  I was quite the Jethro Tull fan and quite the Aqualung fan.  My enjoyment of the song is not diminished in the slightest by the fact that I have no idea what it’s about.  It starts like this:

Sitting on the park bench —
eyeing little girls with bad intent.
Snot is running down his nose —
greasy fingers smearing shabby clothes.

Aqualung is a man, maybe.  Possibly a pedophile, too, since he watches the “pretty panties run.”  His beard freezes (probably from the snot), he picks a dog-end (whatever the Hell that is), warms his feet at the bog and eventually it sounds like he dies.  What the…..?!?!?!

It’s a long song, too.  Like MacArthur Park it breaks into a part that sounds like it came from another song.  It’s all redeemed by Anderson’s great voice and peerless flute-playing.  Okay, it’s still weird, but I like it.

Ian Anderson's flute can fix any song.

Ian Anderson’s flute can fix any song.

So, those are five songs that make me think or at least confuse me.  I could come up many more–any song by Nick Cave, for instance (“Karl Marx squeezed his carbuncles while writing Das Kapital.”).  Bob Dylan has many others, too (Quinn the Eskimo, Subterranean Homesick Blues).  I’m sure you have your own.  Think about them.  It’s fun, and you just might learn something.

© 2013