If you’ve had a conversation that lasts more than two minutes with me in the past month or so, you’ve probably heard me go off on some rant about the current political climate and America’s current administration. Believe me, I’d love to talk about something else, but every time I turn around, something new and horrifying has happened and I get angry and riled up all over again.
Now, this may seem tangential, but my creative pursuits go in waves. Sometimes, I’m all about novel writing, sometimes it’s comics and drawing, and sometimes it’s music. Lately, it’s been music. And here’s where it connects: the single upside to my current mood and reaction to American politics has been to write a slew of protest songs.
Now, there’s a long history of musicians picking up an instrument and address injustice and inequality. Guys like Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, and Woody Guthrie made their careers writing songs of protest (sure, Dylan moved away from that pretty quick, but that’s how he started out). Speaking out for the less fortunate, the voiceless, the silent masses – that’s what protest music is all about.
And so, despite my distaste for the current administration and its policies, my songwriting has felt pretty inspired lately. I would gladly trade inspiration for a different president, mind you.
When I was a younger man, single and insecure and full of anxiety and dumb ideas, I was a bit of a sad sack. Okay, a lot of a sad sack. I moped around the campus fountain at midnight listening to sad songs on my Discman like some mooney-eyed twit. And I made mix CDs of songs about love gone sour and losers.
Nowadays, I tend to mope less, mostly because I finally got medication and therapy. Marrying an amazing woman helped, too. While I don’t make mix CDs anymore (I make playlists on my phone instead, because it’s 2017), I do still enjoy putting together thematic lists for special occasions. While I think of myself as less of a loser than I once did, I thought it might be fun to put together one more Loser List for Valentine’s Day.
Before the list, though, a few words on this holiday. I’ve never been a big fan of Valentine’s Day. Maybe it’s a result of being single throughout college and grad school. Maybe I resent being told I have to be romantic on a set day in a specific way (today’s comic is a pretty clear indicator that the Wife and I have our own unique brand of affection and romance). Honestly, I don’t think there’s any real reason to feel obligated to do some big, ridiculous thing today, unless you really want to. Some folks really love Valentine’s Day, and that’s great for them! For the rest of us, let’s just act like it’s a regular ol’ Tuesday, and everyone has joined Garibaldi’s Red Shirts for the day for some weird reason.
Anyway, without further ado, here’s the Losers List.
The Beatles, “I’m a Loser”: A Hard Day’s Night is one of my absolute favorite Beatles albums, and this manages to be one of the best songs on the record.
Beck, “Loser”: Like this song wasn’t going to show up on this list.
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, “Even the Losers”: More a song of hope than anything else, it always gives me strength to think that even the losers can get lucky sometime.
The Avett Brothers, “Shame”: Sometimes we feel so sure of ourselves, only to realize we’re being tremendous assholes.
Bob Dylan, “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go”: Blood on the Tracks is full of sad songs of love gone wrong, but this is one of my favorites.
Cake, “Friend is a Four-Letter Word”: If early-20s me had an anthem, this was probably it. If anyone needed a punch in the face, it was early-20s me.
Camera Obscura, “Lloyd, I’m Ready to be Heartbroken”: “‘Cause I can’t see further than my own nose at the moment.” Brilliant.
Sting, “Seven Days”: Sting’s face is pretty punchable, too, if only because he refers to his rival as “Neanderthal.”
Jesse Malin, “She Don’t Love Me Now”: I’m a sucker for great horn arrangements.
Led Zeppelin, “Hey Hey What Can I Do”: Your woman runs around on you while everyone’s at church? Robert Plant feels your pain.
Over on my comic blog the past couple of weeks, I’ve been running a storyline about the Trail Police. The Trail Police were an idea my brother and I came up with back in the summer of 2002 while we were working in Yellowstone National Park. The idea was the Park Rangers couldn’t manage the trails and the park visitors alone, and needed a vigilante to run around zapping ne’er-do-wells with a cattle prod. It became this whole convoluted thing, involving a rival trail police guy named the Trail Master, and then I moved on with my life. I revisited the idea a couple of summers later, then again late last year by bringing the Trail Master into the “real world” to compete and then befriend the comic representation of my brother.
And then all the nonsense with the Parks Service Twitter accounts happened, and my brother texted me asking why I wasn’t doing a Trail Police comic about it. And then I couldn’t not do a series.
For this week’s comics, I decided to do a series of images of the characters hiking in various national parks. I picked five of my favorites, found photos, and added Clyde, his daughter, and the Trail Master into them. And the idea behind that – hiking in the parks to highlight and bring attention to the astonishing beauty and importance of these public spaces – felt like something important, something I’d like to see actually happen in the real world.
Now, I know not everyone lives near a national park, or a national park that isn’t under six feet of snow in the middle of February. So what I was thinking was this: why not do a big hike for the parks sort of thing in March? Get people out there, expressing their appreciation for the parks, reminding people of how important America’s Best Idea really is.
The plan, then: on March 25, we hike. Everyone. Get out to the nearest national park and get on the trail. Carry signs if you want. Tell the world you think the National Park System is worth preserving, worth fighting for. Join me on the trail that day, won’t you?
I was once a Republican.
Now, in my defense, it was 1998, I grew up in Oklahoma, and I was pretty naive and didn’t know much about anything outside of my small town life.
But yeah, for a single midterm election in 1998, I voted Republican. It was during my first semester of college, and honestly voting in Oklahoma for anyone other than the Republicans on the federal level (or even the state level, most of the time) was an exercise in futility.
But I did it because I was, in that first semester in college, very much a Republican.
I remember the first time my college biology professor mentioned evolution in class. I had a bit of a tantrum, demanding to know how evolution could work if God existed. I don’t recall correctly, but the professor was far kinder to me than I deserved. He didn’t taunt me or belittle my beliefs, though he may have heaved a laborious sigh (this probably wasn’t a common position to come across when you teach science in a small, church-affiliated private university in the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas). He said there was nothing in evolution that contradicted the notion of God or God creating everything. I wasn’t 100% convinced, but I subsided.
And by the time I came home for Winter Break a couple of months later, I’d be basically unrecognizable as that naive young man. I’m not saying Republicans are naive, just that I sure was.
I spent the next several years trying to tell myself and those around me that I was a left-leaning moderate, when the reality was that I was tipping so far to the left that I just about fell off that end of the spectrum.
I’m not saying education automatically makes everyone more liberal. I know plenty of well-educated people who nonetheless remain conservative. But it’s hard to go through several years of education in the social sciences and not come out of it thinking maybe the government needs to have some compassion for those outside the majority because, let’s face it, the government has spent centuries mistreating those in the minority.
tl; dr: College turned me liberal, and I’m super okay with that.
One of my fondest memories is of the time I spent working in Yellowstone National Park one summer. My brother and I worked in the dining hall at Mammoth Hot Springs, at the far northern end of the park up in Montana. We were table bussers (though I eventually moved back into the kitchen as a prep cook), working four days a week on average. On our days off, we’d take long, meandering hikes of 15-20 miles each with nothing but some trail mix, some Ritz Bits S’mores, and a couple of bottles of water in our fanny packs (that’s right, we had fanny packs. They were effective, dangit).
I’d just graduated from college and had no idea what I’d be doing when I returned from my three months in the wilderness (spoiler alert: the answer was graduate school at the University of Oklahoma). But honestly, I wasn’t all that concerned about it at the time, and not just because I was 22 and dumb as a box of rocks. Yellowstone was and remains the home of a breathtaking variety of sights. From the aforementioned hot springs to the geysers like Old Faithful, the towering Yellowstone Falls and the simple, placid beauty of Lake Yellowstone (we weren’t real original with the names, I’ll admit), and on to the mud volcanoes and south into the Grand Tetons, a mountain range so magnificent it got its own park. My brother and I went on hikes where we knew we were the only humans who’d seen the end of that trail in years (the bear we encountered on one trail guaranteed we’d be the only people to set foot on that trail that particular summer). Yellowstone remains my place of bliss, a location I can return to again and again in my mind to find peace in moments of chaos and anxiety.
And the current Republican-controlled Congress wants to basically give them away.
Now, I’m fine with states running some stuff. There is the argument that smaller jurisdictions – states and local governments – are closer to their people than the federal government, and therefore can act more proactively and respond more effectively and flexibly to changing needs. But the idea here – one that’s pushed by fossil fuel special interests – is that these federal lands have no inherent value in and of themselves and, therefore, the federal government doesn’t need to be holding onto millions of acres of federal land. They should give or sell that land to the states to do with as they please.
Anyone who thinks Wyoming has the financial resources to manage all the national park land in that state, please raise your hand. Now put your hands down, you liars. There’s no way they could maintain their part of Yellowstone National Park at the level its been run and maintained by the federal government. Wyoming just doesn’t have the cash. They’d have to sell, I dunno, logging rights and drilling rights and mining rights and the like in the park to be able to afford it. And that right there is the problem, and the Republican dream of selling off the parks piecemeal: it opens them up to exploitation.
The root of the problem is the belief that land has no value beyond the minerals or resources one can strip from it. And that runs counter to the very concept of the national parks. Men like Teddy Roosevelt saw the inherent value in preserving vast swaths of land just for the sake of the land itself. Not everything has to be measured in monetary value.
Just outside of Mammoth Hot Springs, at the northern entrance to the park in Gardiner, MT, there’s the Roosevelt Arch. It’s a stone archway bearing an inscription: “For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People.” Teddy himself went on to add, “Nowhere else in any civilized country is there to be found such a tract of veritable wonderland made accessible to all visitors, where at the same time not only the scenery of the wilderness, but the wild creatures of the Park are scrupulously preserved, as they were the only change being that these same wild creatures have been so carefully protected as to show a literally astonishing tameness. The creation and preservation of such a great national playground in the interests of our people as a whole is a credit to the nation; but above all a credit to Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.”
And dammit, he was right. “America’s Best Idea,” as the concept of the National Parks has come to be known, isn’t just a clever advertising slogan. It’s a testament to the enduring idea of setting aside something natural and beautiful and perfect so that others may someday enjoy those things, too. I want my niece and nephews to be able to visit the parks one day. I want them to marvel as Old Faithful shoots steam and boiling hot water a hundred feet in the air. I want them to giggle about the sulfurous stink of the hot springs. I want to see them stand there, mouths hanging open, as a herd of bison amble along the road, completely ignoring the cars. I want them to see wolves and elk and big horn sheep and everything else Yellowstone has to offer, and then I want them to stand on the rim of the Grand Canyon, and hike through the river at Zion, and see the majestic peaks of the Tetons, and maybe – if any still exist – see the Glaciers at Glacier National Park. And none of that will be possible if the federal government has sold off the Grand Canyon so that a state could sell uranium mining rights, or if the forests of Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes Park, Colorado have been logged to the point that only stumps remain.
Of course, there is another distinct possibility: that the supervolcano under Yellowstone will wake up and erupt and kill us all. It wouldn’t be the worst thing that could happen in Trump’s America.
So, there’s still time to sign up for the book giveaway! In fact, I’m going to go ahead and extended the deadline to next Friday so everyone who really wants to has a chance to enter! Act now! All you have to do is like and leave a comment on the original post, and you’re entered! It’s as easy as that.