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