Wednesday, September 20, 2006


Before I left for Japan I went up to Book Soup on Sunset to find something to read on the plane. This is a stupid thing to do because I'm almost never able to read much on the plane to Japan. About 2 hours into the flight they turn off all the lights and I feel like an ass if I turn mine back on. Before that there's always meal services and stuff happening. I end up reading like 10 pages of whatever I bring and that's it.

But I like reading and it was an excuse to buy something new. I was thinking of getting that book, The Man Who Heard Voices, which is all about how hard it was for M. Night Shaylaman (I think that's the spelling) to make that new movie of his, the one nobody saw. I didn't see it. But the book sounded good. Especially because I've been tasked with making a movie out here. Anyone who's got any bright ideas about that is welcome to write me. We have some money to invest, our company has to be part of the production and it can't be an Ultraman movie. Those are the parameters.

Anyway, while I was at the book store I noticed that Chuck Klosterman had a new book out. So I bought that instead. I really like Klosterman's writing. Plus he lived in Akron for a few years and he's a major fan of KISS. How can you go wrong with that combination? The first book of his I read was Killing Yourself to Live and that was really good. Then I read Fargo Rock City, which was good until the end where he just goes on and on forever about his alcoholism. Robyn Hitchcock has a great song called "Tell Me About Your Drugs." It's a sarcastic rant about people who like to regale others with their drug stories. Boring! So are drinking stories. But that's just the last, like 20 pages, and the rest is spiffy, so I'll forgive him and still recommend the book.

Chuck Klosterman IV is a collection of articles he wrote for SPIN, Esquire and even the Akron Beacon Journal (hoo-zah!). The first part is mostly celebrity profiles and investigative type writing. The Britney Spears piece is getting a lot of coverage. But that's not my favorite. I was more interested in the report about the fact that Morrisey has a tremendous Latino following especially in LA, which I did not know. There's another pretty funny piece about Akron's clairvoyents. Klosterman does not bowl, but he went to a bunch of psychics asking them if he had any chance of making it on the pro bowling circuit. Most said what they thought he wanted to hear. Pretty much what I'd have expected.

The second part of the book wasn't quite as good as the first. For one thing, in part one he introduces each essay with some interesting backstory type stuff about how, when & why it was written. I always like that kind of thing. But in part two he dispenses with that and writes these dopey thought problems, "You are on a raft in the middle of the ocean with your worst enemy and a friendly dog. Who do you eat?" Well, that wasn't in there. But stuff along those lines. I know some people like that kind of thing. I just don't see the point. If I ever find myself in such a situation, I'll do whatever I do. There's no point wasting brain cells on such thinking. I guess if you enjoy thinking, thinking, thinking all the time, you're probably always searching for crap like this to keep the garbage soup inside your noggin churning around.

One interesting point he brought up is what is called the "paradox of choice" which is summarized as, "choice makes us depressed." It's absolutely true. Even though Klosterman gives credit to a professor named Barry Schwartz for inventing the theory, it's been around a lot longer than that. There's a famous Buddhist poem that opens, "The Way is not hard to follow, just give up choosing."

Klosterman brings up the paradox of choice in reference to Johnny Carson. When Carson died everybody said, "there'll never be another Johnny Crason." This is true because everybody in America knew who Johnny Carson was whether they liked him or not. These days even a pop culture vulture like Klosterman misses out on lots of things that are huge hits with certain parts of the population, simply because there is so much more on offer these days. No one can possibly keep up with it all. This is why there'll never be another Beatles either. No one can ever possibly have that kind of impact again unless we were to completely dismantle the Internet, cable TV, satellite radio and all the other media outlets we have access to now.

It's always "57 Channels And Nothing On" as The Boss said. Even in the age of a Godzillion choices, there's still only a tiny portion of truly worthwhile stuff out there. The fact that nowadays everyone and his brother can be a writer, a film maker, a graphic artist or a musician at the touch of a button (Heck, you can even pretend to be a Zen Master if you want to. Who's gonna know you aren't?) hasn't seemed to have produced any greater wealth of truly good stuff. At best some of the good stuff that might not have gotten an audience before, now has a better chance of being seen or heard. But that stuff would've been produced anyway. Artists of any kind with true passion for what they do will create even if there's not a chance in Hell of anyone ever seeing or hearing what they do. Pretty much nobody read Dogen's Shobogenzo for 800 years after it was written. There weren't even printing presses then for cryin' out loud! Yet he still wrote 95 frikkin' chapters of the thing.

This paradox of choice also relates to Buddhism. In reading Dogen, you'll find a lot of passages where he extolls the virtues of Buddhism. But its interesting to note that in his time (the 13th century) the alternatives were far fewer than we have now. No one in Japan had ever so much as heard of Christianity, Judaism and Islam back then. Religion meant only Japanese folk religions (Shintoism) and Buddhism. There were a few varieties of Buddhism by then and Dogen gave each one a go. He found esoteric Buddhism lacking, discovered something more valid in Rinzai style Zen Buddhism but still felt it wasn't quite right and finally discovered the truth through the study and practice of Soto style Zen Buddhism.

Nowadays we have about a trillion flavors of religion to choose from. There must be easily a couple hundred brands of Buddhism on the market. So how do we know which one is right? I've already answered that question for myself. But I was lucky in that what turned out to be the real deal was always right there for me. The few times I encountered bad teachers I dismissed them immediately. I have no idea why this happened. But it did. So I didn't waste a whole lot of time searching and searching. I looked into a few other things and the fact that they were bullshit was abundantly clear without my even having to really dig into them too deeply.

Lately some people have accused me of "sectarianism." But, honest to Jesus, I have no idea what they mean. I suppose they think that anyone who sticks clearly to one principle is, by doing so, implying that we should go out and kill everyone who believes anything else, or, at the very least that we should stick bamboo shoots up under their fingernails until they say they agree with us. Of course this is all true but....

NO! NO! I'm kidding! I have to be careful. Or maybe I don't. Bob Dylan had a great line. A reporter asked him if he felt alarmed that his songs might be misinterpreted and, for example, be seen as an endorsement for drug abuse and other such bad stuff. He said, "That's not my problem." I like that. Anymore that's the way I feel. I can't stop people misinterpreting me unless I just shut up forever. And I'm not gonna do that. So, go ahead and misinterpret away. It's not my problem.

At any rate, choice makes us miserable. I've never seen any happiness come from wafting around from philosophy to philosophy looking for just the right one. When you do that you just become addicted to being a Seeker of Truth. It's far better to just stick with one thing and see it through to the end. Of course you need to watch out that that one thing isn't Aum Shinrikyo or something like that. But it's not necessary to try absolutely everything. Most of what passes for religion or meditation is crap. Sturgeon's Law, you know, "98% of everything is crud."

If I didn't believe in the way that was handed down to my teacher and that he passed on to me absolutely, I would not have become part of his lineage. Otherwise why do it at all? If you want someone who'll tell you that all the other methods of meditation out there are equally OK, I am not your go-to guy. There may be a million and a half choices out there, but I only buy into one way. The others are of no interest at all.


481 said...

Goddamn Skippy. If you still think having overwhelming options constantly circulated in front of you is a great thing, read "Thy Myth Of Freedom," by Chogyan Trungpa. I've posted before that Trungpa was a drunk womanizer, but, by god he had the philosophy down. I'm no longer a member of Shambhala, but this book is an outstanding reminder that, despite what seems like endless avenues in a global society, freedom of thought and action are simply illusions.

If anyone's interested, please check it out. Fabulous book.

oxeye said...

Yeah.. you do seem to be a little more relaxed about the way you come off here lately, like it maybe bothered you before to be misunderstood but now you just write what you write and how it is perceived is just other people thinking..

Do you really believe there will never be another Beatle's again? Man, I don't see how there possibly can’t be. Never is a real long time. Of course, whoever they are probably won't last as long as the Beatles did, but more people will know of them.

Your last paragraph was very familiar. You said something very similar about your music one time. something like if you didn't think your music was the best thing out there, then why even bother doing it.. I never understood where you were coming from with that view.. unless it was some kind of mental trick to keep you going.

You said, "I was lucky in that what turned out to be the real deal was always right there for me." It could be that what you settled on was just one of many possible ways. It just depended on which choice was right in front of you when you were ready to pick. Is hard core punk rock the best music? Is zen buddhism the best religion? I guess it really doesn't matter. Unless it is completely whacked it can be made to work. the whole idea of choice is rather spurious anyway. Things just unfold for us in a certain way because of past events we know nothing of. You only buy into one way because that is the only real choice you have. And once chosen it becomes a matter of belief. Other choices become unthinkable. As you say, The others are of no interest at all.

proulx michel said...

Oh! Brad, of course they didn't have printing presses as such, but printing was invented in China, specifically in order to print buddhist sutras.

Purple, I think you'll find Brad in agreement with me. Freedom of choice DOES exist. But only at the present moment. If you're not there at the present moment (and admit, we're often NOT there, when things happen), we can act. It's not even necessary to choose, because when you act at the present moment, you do it right.

And as for Oxeye, even if there were a group as good and popular as the Beatles were, they just wouldn't be the Beatles.

Or, eventually, you might read Jorge Luis Borges' "Pierre Menard, authentic author of the Quixote"...


proulx michel said...

By the way, I strongly recommend reading "Life of Pi", by Yann Martel. It's about crossing the Pacific ocean in a lifeboat along with a tiger, and not being eaten by it...

Jules said...

I think Brad was saying that there wouldn't be another band that has the same universal cultural influence that the Beatles had.

And that sometimes people interpret things differently. And that all cats are Nazis.

Jules said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jules said...

For those of you think that last sentence was a little odd, it's an old joke, sorry.

A long time ago Brad mentioned something about how he could write, "I like dogs," and someone would send him a very angry e-mail saying something like, "HOW CAN YOU SAY ALL CATS ARE NAZIS?!?!?!?!" I've had a similar experiences in internet conversations. I imagine it's a similar situation with Brad's affiliation with Soto Zen and other people trying to get his buy-in on their belief system of choice.

Jules said...

I quit reading Chuck Klosterman when I noticed that Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs had large sections cut-n-pasted from Fargo Rock City. I felt like I had bought a band's second album, only to find that half the tracks were the exact same recordings as were on the first album.

Lone Wolf said...

I found this post rather refreshing and informative. I also better understand the way of Gudo Nishijma as well.

Brad - Have you taken the Bodhisattva Vow, and if so, what is your understanding of it?

Anonymous said...

What about Nirvana? In my lifetime of musical enjoyment, Nirvana had to be about as close as anyone has come to the culture-changing icon status of the Beatles.

I can remember how the local music scene here in NC changed along with fashion (no more teased hair,
Ibanez guitars, and back patches on your denim jackets)in what now seems like weeks after Headbangers'
Ball and 120 minutes debuted "Smells Like Teen Spirit" on the same weekend in the fall of 1991.

By the way, I'm not even a fan of theirs.

oxeye said...

I loved the beatles too but they were great mostly because of my hormonal changes. elvis was better than them and sinatra was better than him. next year's model might be the best yet. it's only pop art, not real life and it depends a lot on how old you are when you hear the crap.

Matt said...

I kept thinking that said "Chuck Klosterman TV" huh.

Jules said...

I am a fan of Nirvana's. I'm also a fan of Soundgarden, Mother Love Bone, Mudhoney, and Alice in Chains, and the Pixies. Nirvana borrowed a lot from some of these guys, not to mention the punk roots: Bad Brains, 0DFX, etc.

Nirvana was a great and influential band; but I just don't think they quite matched the Beatles in terms of the cultural impact of their own creative work.

earDRUM said...

There will never be another Beatles. Nirvana and Green day didn't come anywhere close to having a cultural impact like the Beatles did. And they didn't really discover any new musical ground. The Beatles changed the music scene in the western world.
I guess you had to be there. The culture so different from today's.

It is only pop art, but it is also real life.

481 said...

Eardrum, that's the most intelligent thing I've heard in about a million years. "It's only pop art, but it's also real life." I love it.

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