Bob Schwartz

Arcade Fire: I Give You Power, I Can Take It Away

The Clash used to call themselves “The only band that matters,” based on their political and social stances.

Arcade Fire has never been overly political, or overly self-promoting, just great. Their latest single, released in January, doesn’t make them the only band that matters, but it does confirm that they are a band that matters, and it is a track that matters.

If the band had just added Mavis Staples to the track, that might have been enough. But what she and Win Butler sing for us is an anthem pointed right at the heart of today. A reminder, an aspiration, a truth you can listen to and move to and shout and follow, when you’re feeling discouraged.

I Give You Power

I give you power, over me
I give you power, but now I gotta be free
I give you power, but now I say
I give you power, I can take it away
I can take it away
Watch me

The Longing (When Joni Sings)

The Longing (When Joni Sings)

When I hear Joni sing
So early, so young
Love and longing
The longing of love
The longing for love
The love that is longing
The love
The love lasting everlasting evanescent.
The past is not more sweet
The present not more bitter.
A song to travel the sea
Shores seen and dreamed
When I hear her sing.

Start the Day Knowing Nothing

Smart people, or people who think they’re smart, often start the day knowing a lot, and proceeding to discuss what they know, to apply what they know, and to learn more to know.

Setting aside whether these people know as much as they think they do, or should know it more quietly and privately, here’s a little something that really can’t hurt: Start the day knowing nothing.

This isn’t the same as forgetting what you do know. It is more like instantly taking a grand look at everything you do know—which might be very grand indeed—and deciding to hide it away. Just for a little while. You’ll find someplace to put it.

Try it. You may be surprised and amazed at how comfortable and healing it can be to know nothing. You may grow to like it, and so may those around you.

I’m with Stupid and Stupid Is Me

I see that today a few people were reading a post I wrote a little more than a year ago, You Can Stop Worrying About Trump Being the Republican Nominee. But You Can’t Stop Worrying.

At the time, David Duke, ex-KKK Grand Wizard, gave Trump his imprimatur, saying he was in essence “one of us.” I totally believed this would end Trump’s chances of the Republicans giving him the nomination.

I was wrong about so many things. I overestimated the Republican Party. I underestimated the haplessness of the Democratic Party establishment. I overestimated the news media. I should have known better on all those scores but as the poet/political analyst Emily Dickinson said, “Hope is the thing with feathers.”

What I wasn’t wrong about, then or now, is this:

Forget all the talk about people flocking to Trump because of their frustration and anger about political gridlock and ineffectiveness. You don’t have to take a deep dive into the research to see that tens of million Americans want to roll back progress not to the Reagan years, but to the years before civil rights and other modern principles of tolerance and equality. (My sad favorite remains the Trump supporter wearing a baseball cap saying “Make Racism Great Again!”).

These people may not be your friends, but they are your neighbors and fellow voters. Whether there are enough of them to elect a President of the United States is an open question.

That open question is answered and closed. I am stupefied. I’m with me, and I’m with stupid. And for the moment, so are we all.

Crow and heron, goose and crow. And fish.

“Now, about what it means to realize conclusively that what is unborn and marvelously illuminating is truly the Buddha Mind: Suppose ten million people got together and unanimously declared that a crow was a heron. A crow is black, without having to be dyed that way, just as a heron is white—that’s something we always see for ourselves and know for a fact. So even if, not only ten million people, but everyone in the land were to get together and tell you a crow was a heron, you still wouldn’t be fooled, but remain absolutely sure of yourself. That’s what it means to have a conclusive realization. Conclusively realize that what is unborn is the Buddha Mind and that the Buddha Mind is truly unborn and marvelously illuminating, and everything will be perfectly managed with the Unborn, so that, whatever people try to tell you, you won’t let yourself be fooled by them. You won’t accept other people’s delusions.”
Bankei Zen

“You, Sir, if you want to stop everything below Heaven losing its original simplicity, you must travel with the wind and stand firm in Virtue. Why do you exert yourself so much, banging a big drum and hunting for a lost child? The snow goose doesn’t need a daily bath to stay white, nor does the crow need to be stained every day to stay black. Black and white comes from natural simplicity, not from argument. Fame and fortune, though sought after, do not make people greater than they actually are. When the waters dry up and the fish are stranded on the dry land, they huddle together and try to keep each other moist by spitting and wetting each other. But wouldn’t it be even better if they could just forget each other, safe in their lakes and rivers?”
Book of Chuang Tzu

The Albatross: REPUBLICAN President Trump

Ah! well a-day! what evil looks       
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albatross   
About my neck was hung.
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Barring extraordinary intervening events such as impeachment (which may not happen), Donald Trump will be president for the next four years. For those unhappy with that prospect, one obvious strategy is to limit his power/damage by reducing the number of Republicans in Congress and elsewhere.

As complex tactics are devised to achieve that end, here is a magic incantation—an albatross—that can help:

REPUBLICAN President Trump

Yes, it is that simple. Three words. It was only months ago that many Republicans were distancing themselves from candidate Trump—trying to hold onto their integrity, dignity, principles and sanity. Once he won, it was understandable that they stood by him, given the power that comes with the office. A lot of Republican dreams could come true with a Republican president, even if it is Trump.

Now Republicans are wondering about the consequences of being attached to the wackiest and least popular president in modern history—maybe ever (after only two months in office!). Not even distancing is going to work, since Trump showed during the campaign that he would attack anyone at any time, regardless of party. Those attacks carry a lot more weight now that he is actually the president.

Even if Republicans try to delicately distance themselves, it should be made as difficult as possible. And the best way to assure that is to identify Trump regularly as REPUBLICAN President Trump. Not President Trump. REPUBLICAN President Trump. REPUBLICAN President Trump.

Let’s see Republicans shake that albatross.

Sharing a Draft

Sharing a Draft

Sharing a draft
Is intimate.
Standing naked is not so private
As getting dressed.
Who is allowed to see?

Surrealism: An Appropriate Response to Now

Sometime during the news today, the word surreal came to mind. Again.

Andre Breton, one of the founders of the Surrealist art movement in the 1920s, defined it this way:

SURREALISM, n. Pure psychic automatism, by which it is intended to express, verbally, in writing, or by other means, the real process of thought. Thought’s dictation, in the absence of all control exercised by the reason and outside all aesthetic or moral preoccupations.

I think that now and then I may be turning to surrealist art and literature—not to explain things, just because it seems like an appropriate response to now. To things that turn up in the news, for example.

Anyway, surrealism may find its way into these posts once in a while. A work of art, a bit of literature.

Above you will see Juan Miro’s Potato (1928). When you recognize that as possibly/certainly a potato/the potato/no potato/one potato/many potatoes/the idea of potato, you will be on your way to understanding what is going on. In the news, for example. Probably better than me.

The Warmth of Zen

One of the descriptions—it might be a criticism—of Zen is that it is cold and severe. That the core practice of “just sitting” (shikantaza) and thinking non-thinking/beyond thinking is too intellectual and does not include elements of feeling and humanity found in other practices and traditions, including some Buddhist ones.

Not to refute something that doesn’t ask for refutation, but here is a thought. Zen is like building the best fireplace in which the best fires can be set to burn the most cleanly and warmly. Yes, stone and bricks are cold. And you can build fires in the middle of your room or outside, and you may. But it is also good to have a well-constructed place to bring your wood and flame. It may seem impossible to build a fireplace just by sitting. But ultimately, it is actually very warm.

Faster than Flowers

Faster than Flowers

These poems grow
Faster than flowers.
They must be weeds.