First Person Revolutionary — Part 1

Ever think about the revolutions in your life? The things that change, and change greatly, and then affect everything that comes after?

Boy, I do.

I’ll tell you a little one first, and then a big one, and then a maybe one.

The Little One

The little one – well, it might be a big one to you – is about music.

We have only the musical scores from Beethoven, Bach, Brahms and all those other classical composers. Meaning: We know what the music sounds like when it’s performed by a modern symphony orchestra, but we have nothing of what it sounded like when the composers themselves conducted or performed it.

By contrast, for all the modern composers – the creators of pop, rock, hip-hop, and all other recent musical genres – we have their actual recordings. In several different media, we have the Eagles, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Fats Domino, the Eurythmics, Green Day, Pitbull, Elton John, Heart. We have their instrumentation, their voices, their music … with THEM in it. Recorded so it can be played back at any time.

Which means the people of the future will hear OUR Pitbull’s voice, see his face, as he performs. They’ll see and hear OUR John Lennon, OUR Aretha Franklin, OUR Mick Jagger, OUR Madonna, OUR Ann and Nancy Wilson.

People 250 years from now — a temporal distance longer than that between us and the founding of the United States — will listen to The Eagle’s “Hotel California,” or Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon,” Heart’s “Dog & Butterfly” or Garth Brooks’ “The Dance” and say “Hey, I like that!” But they’ll say that about artists alive in our era, someone you and I might even have seen in the flesh.

Yes, they’ll have plenty of music of their own. But at least SOME of the songs of the past 50 years will still be around — still heard, still enjoyed, literal legends of the human endeavor of music — scores or hundreds of years from now. But you heard them first. You heard them NOW.

Point is, we’re living in the midst of a historic era which records the faces and voices and music of these people, and every person downstream of us on the timeline will hear and see it exactly as we do, exactly as it was.

The Big One

Why am I talking about revolutions? Probably because my birthday’s coming up – my 60th! – and I’m feeling mortal. Like I don’t have a lot of time to get done with my life’s work – one part of which might be helping to shepherd in that maybe-revolution.

I’ll tell you a couple of funny-strange things about being almost-60.

First, it’s weird because I never feel 60. Apparently the physical age-number has very little to do with the mental age-number, the age you FEEL you are. Don’t know about other almost-60s, but from the inside, I see myself very much as about 28 years old, 35 tops. On a good day, I can still hit 12 … for minutes at a time.

I suspect this might be a general psychological condition for humans, arising from the fact that our most vivid memories are of ourselves as we were at those younger ages, and so we can’t help but view ourselves as younger.

But in my case, it’s also very much a quirk of my own childish makeup. Totally unselfconsciously, I still sometimes ride the grocery cart across the parking lot to my truck, possibly winning the disapproval of staid bystanders. Sometime this summer, I plan to scare myself witless by sliding down a 3,000-foot-long, 650-foot-high zipline, not far from me. Hell, if I had the money and time, I’d be out tomorrow learning to windsurf, rafting through the Grand Canyon, or just sitting in a mountain hot spring, drinking a beer and watching the sun set.

(Comparing the two of us, you young whippersnapper and I, I might be willing to bet I’ve been parasailing, waterfall-hunting or geocaching more recently than you. But only after you GET OFF MY GODDAM LAWN!)

Second, it’s weird because when I’m talking to younger people, I often come across these jarring differences in viewpoint about things that have happened. Events that are in my very own memory are not in theirs. I remember the things happening, but they know about them, if at all, only through history. In other words, some of THEIR history is MY actual memories.

If you were born after 1972, humankind’s final visit to the moon is history to you. But I watched it on TV.

If you were born after 1982, you think of the Internet as something that’s always existed. But I remember a time when nobody I knew had even heard of computers, much less seen or used one.

Though mobile phones have existed since slightly before I was born, it was only when I was in high school that I saw my first one … permanently mounted in a truck and as big as a piece of luggage. Yet if you are less than about 30 years old, handheld cell phones are one of those “always been that way” things.

Revolutions. That’s what these events were. And whereas they are remote-seeming history to younger people, I got to see them unfolding with my own eyes.

I’m so, so glad to be living in this moment, and to have seen these and other wonderful things happen. What a sweet time to be alive!

Best of all, though, I’m getting to live through this second revolution, the big one. If it were a Christian horror movie, it would be called Attack of the Atheists. In real life, it’s the decline and fall of religion as a controlling force in society, simply as a result of more and more people understanding they have the freedom to come to their own conclusions about the existence of various supernatural superbeings.

If you only tuned in over the past 10 years, you might see this as yet another of those “always been this way” things … but no. It isn’t.

Seeing it from before it started, when atheists had to keep their heads down, had to never say anything out loud in public, had to mumble and whisper and peer around nervously even when we found another atheist we could talk to, this era of blatant, proud, combative freethought is a Big Event.

I walked around the Reason Rally a few months back and couldn’t stop smiling. Caught up in the moment, not everybody there knew it, but I did: This was history-making change. Revo-fuckin’-lution, baby!

The Maybe One

Speaking of the atheist attack, there’s another step along that road, it seems to me – maybe coming, maybe not.  I’ve been thinking about it for months, hinting about it here from time to time, but not writing about it.

For … several reasons, I guess.

One is, I think it’s a Big Idea, and I’m not sure I’m the proper person to bring it out. I’m this literally-blue-collar idiot who lives in a nothing place, with no college degree, very little public speaking experience, and … I’m just, you know, not a very attention-getting presence. I’m afraid people won’t listen.

Another thing is that I worry I’ll get it wrong when I write about it, making it sound silly, or pretentious, or simply laughable. I’ll plant the seed wrong-side-up and it will die before it gets to the sunlight of public attention or acceptance.

Finally, I can’t seem to figure out where to start. I have more than 50 pages of notes about the thing, and it’s all jumbled up in my head, a single complex idea that wants to come out in one huge babbling block.

And just maybe, what the hell, I’m wrong about it. Maybe it’s a nothing idea. Or maybe – I can’t read even a fraction of what’s coming down the freethought pipeline these days – maybe somebody’s already working on it, putting it out there, and I’ll be the nerd at the frat party who shouts out, at the exact wrong time, “Hey, check it out guys, I scored some of those new wine coolers! They have, like, ALCOHOL in them!”

I finally decided I just have to start writing about it, and see where it leads.

Maybe it’s a Big Idea, maybe it’s a nothing idea. I still have to put it out there.

Maybe I’ll do it justice, maybe I’ll screw it up. We’ll have to see.

Maybe I’m the guy to start it, maybe I’m not. But somewhere out there, if it IS a Big Idea, it will find the champion it needs, and she (or he) will set the world on fire with it.

You always hope you’ll be able to make some positive difference in the world, and I would like to be the one to make this positive difference. But given a choice of being Somebody in the world as it is, with rampant religiosity controlling everything, and being Nobody in an emphatically better world without religion in the driver’s seat, I’d choose to be a nobody and be glad of it.


[ Continued ]

First Person Revolutionary — Part 1
First Person Revolutionary — Part 2
First Person Revolutionary — Part 3
First Person Revolutionary — Part 4


[ BTW: The title of this piece is a  lame-ass joke for English majors, a play on grammatical person. ]

Looking Past the Bright Sun of Crazy
Looking Past the Bright Sun of Crazy
A Short, Short Post on the Idea of Souls
Race and Culture Again: Bessie and Lois
  • Cornelioid

    Confound it. I haven’t been this curious in a while. For what it’s worth, though, lots and lots of people who sparked Big Things either didn’t conceive of them at all or weren’t the first to. Doesn’t make them less praiseworthy, just means that later on in history they’ll have to share the credit. We want to share credit like that.

    Do you even have a lawn?

  • douglaslm

    I remember the very first time that I even saw a movie of a cell phone. It was in the movie “Beverly Hills Cop” with Eddie Murphy. The thing was the size of a suit case with a telephone hand set attached to it. It was very cool (for its time) because it could be removed from the car. Thanks for bringing back some old memory’s.
    I will be waiting for the big idea. Just bring it out man. No matter how jumbled you think it is bring it out. There are fans out here in the world that can help smooth it out.

  • kennypo65

    Hank, I read your book, I read this blog everytime there’s a new entry, I like the way you think. I don’t know what your big idea is, but I got a good feeling that I’ll not only love it, but I’ll be on board and help anyway that I can.

  • niftyatheist, perpetually threadrupt

    I’m going to be waiting anxiously, too, Hank.

  • Dorothy

    The thing about being our age is that we were alive to see things happen. My mother, who died two years ago, was alive to see women getting the vote, and vaguely remembers the end of World War I (and all the bells and horns and stuff). I was born during World War II – and can remember seeing the coronation of Queen Elizabeth on the TV – very nearly the earliest in Port Credit at the time. My TV watching started with Howdy Doody. My daughters were alive and remember the moon landing (and so do I). I envy those young people alive today for all that they will be able to see happen.
    Hank – what ever you have in the back of your head – let it out. Even if someone else has thought of it, doesn’t mean that the thought is not valid. There won’t be railroads until it’s railroading time. Maybe it’s time!

  • ‘Tis Himself

    Comparing the two of us, you young whippersnapper and I, I might be willing to bet I’ve been parasailing, waterfall-hunting or geocaching more recently than you. But only after you GET OFF MY GODDAM LAWN!

    Young punk kid. I was 64 in April. I get a senior citizen discount at the movies! Last May I visited my mother for her 90th birthday. :-þ

    • ‘Tis Himself

      Oh by the way, a couple of weeks ago I won a sailboat race. The old man is still competitive in a sport.

  • A Hermit

    My young whippersnappers have discovered the glories of the vinyl LP…now that the CD is becoming obsolete.

  • xjustos

    5000 whining atheists vs the Great Prophet

  • niftyatheist, perpetually threadrupt

    Hank, I’m hoping the quiet over here is because you are cooking up the quiet revolution part 2!!
    Can’t wait.

  • TB at BlueCollarWorkman

    My mom and sister were at the Reason Rally! They had a great time; maybe ya’ll saw eachother and didn’t even know it. :)

  • dust

    I’m living the little revolution now having become a big fan of silent movies in the last couple of years. Viva la revolution! Why wait?

  • ladyatheistatheist

    The recording industry began in the 1890s so we have recordings by Rachmaninoff and Copland and Stravinsky and Richard Strauss, to name a few.

    … Classical composers were “heard” 50 years before the earliest person you mention.

    …just sayin’

  • Skepticali

    I’ll tell you a couple of funny-strange things about being almost-60

    Yeah – it RAWKS!

  • karla

    Mr. Fox,

    whatever it is you decide to do, I know it will be great, or at least I know I´ll love it.

    You´re my favorite here at FTB.

  • consciousness razor

    Point is, we’re living in the midst of a historic era which records the faces and voices and music of these people, and every person downstream of us on the timeline will hear and see it exactly as we do, exactly as it was.

    That’s a little true and more than a little false. The recordings themselves are the same (close enough at least), but that can mislead people into thinking that recorded music as it is heard is completely static. We’re interested in what people hear, not what recordings are, and the way we hear things does in fact change. The musical context we are in affects how and what we hear: what we think is significant, how we identify and relate the “parts” to each other, and so on. This works on the scale of a society over the long term, as well as on individuals at different points in their lives. When you hear something new, you get something out of the experience which can affect how some of your previous musical experiences get processed from then on. You hear old songs differently because you’re hearing them in a new context which other songs (or different recordings of the same) have helped to shape. Of course, music’s not isolated in its own little bubble either. It can affect non-musical experiences and vice versa, or music may not enter into it at all as it’s only supposed to be an example a more general set of phenomena anyway. When you look at it this way, it’s not such a mystery why young and old people — or people in the past, the present, the future, or in different cultures — tend to have different perspectives on the same thing.

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