Number One Son plays loud music, angry but somehow sweet; which I like the sound of but don’t catch the lyrics, cause I’m the old dad these days and he’s in high school blur-land. I could tell him about bands like that, which I liked when I was in school, but there’s no way I’m going there; don’t want to be one of those kind of dads. Even so, it’s awakened something in me, like a breeze from a secret place of young mates, motorbikes, footy and a girl who doesn’t even know who I am.
If I’d asked, Number One Boy would have showed me lyrics like these…
‘What do I got to, what do I got to do to wake you up?
To shake you up, to break the structure up?
Cause blood still flows in the gutter…’*
So, I’m secretly blaming him for taking me back here, reminding me of the still very alive in-love-with-anarchy boy that I am. And, the decades roll back in time and I walk across the dusty lino of home and there’s mum in her chair, crying over a newspaper with a picture of Aussie soldiers boarding a ship to Vietnam. It has to be 1968, my almost-in-high school life. I keep walking. Mum doesn’t usually cry much. Whatever that is, it looks bad. Let’s go find the dog, the rifle, the bike and some pigs to shoot.
But it won’t go away. No too far down the track and it’s back to ditto: same year, same floor, a news broadcast is interrupted. A guy called Robert Kennedy has just been shot—um, didn’t they just shoot that King guy? None of us says anything, we just listen and go on. Mum would have wanted to say lots of things, but it’s hard to say much when your body is about done.
A year has passed. I’m in class watching a clergyman in a rippling black robe walk towards my room. I know what this is. It’s mum’s turn now, she’s finally gone—and me and my brother are in the principal’s office, sobbing. It’s so hot and stuffy and embarrassing. Everything dies in this world. Just have to go hard, as fast as you can, before you’re done too.
Year ten comes around and I’m back in class, keeping the head down, waiting for the bell. Yes! Out in the sunshine and off to listen to that music on the common room stereo, which I would love to own—but which the Rat Pack effectively own.
Not that I care. I love the music, which this bunch of shaggy haired year-eleven guys put on the turntable whilst they float in the deepest of the deep time of high school land.
These boys look like they might bash you, but I doubt it. I sort of don’t exist to them, cause I’m only just out of year nine, in year ten. And they leave my big brother alone and he leaves them alone. I think they’re impressed that my brother has rippling muscles—and later—were impressed when he knocked out a fella out with one punch.
Today, they notice me hanging close, but I think they understand that it’s cause they’re playing Fortunate Son. I so love that crisp, raspy voice and the unashamed mockery of The Establishment right here in a school.
‘It ain’t me, it ain’t me,
I ain’t no military son, son, Lord
It ain’t me, it ain’t me
I ain’t no fortunate one, one…’ **
I don’t fully know what they’re singing about, but I get the sentiment that the bosses are kind of like predators: there’s a fight going on and I’m with the Credence boys and the Rat Pack.
Years pass and I’m embedded in a movie theatre soaking in the The Matrix and hearing Number One Son’s music again—understanding more than ever why he likes it so much. No way I’m telling anyone this, but to my mind the lyrics are a mixture of Zep, Jethro Tull, Credence and Rodriguez… on steroids: and I’m loving being in the year ten dreaming again: longing for some kind of happy anarchy life where I can go bush, shoot pigs, marry the girl I’m falling in love with, who doesn’t even know who I am—and hoping I don’t get drafted into the wars. Like what Rodriguez is singing about…
‘Gun sales are soaring; housewives find life boring
Divorce the only answer smoking causes cancer
This system’s gonna fall soon, to an angry young tune
And that’s a concrete cold fact…’***
The school era is coming to a close, and to be fair, this school has been good to me. I’ve loved much of it and hated some of it. But on this particular morning we are told that we need to ‘find our station in life.’ The implication being that if we find our place in the system, it will look after us. A cold shiver runs down my back and I want to vomit and run away. It’s as if part of me is thanking God for the Rat Pack, my big brother and my mum and dad who all know this is not true—who have protected me from this filthy lie that’s trying to own me.
What annoys me most is the assumption that life’s pains and problems will be managed reasonably well if I just acquire enough wealth, and be democratic and polite: ‘trust the system’ in other words. What annoys me even more is the assumption that I would be dumb enough to believe that.
And yet—here tonight, while I write this blog—the message is still being put out there by highly educated, intelligent people; suggesting that democracy, science and good management will make us better human beings and—to put it crudely—‘save the world’.
It wasn’t so-called ‘jail birds’ and ‘low socioeconomic people’ who gave us Auschwitz, it was a sham Christian society, sociologists, doctors and scientists who gave us Auschwitz. When will we learn? Rage Against the Machine, Credence and Rodriguez were right: humans and systems will always fail us, so let’s stop pretending.
I could be wrong but I suspect that a big part of the outrage in our world at the moment is the annoyance at the assumption of our leaders that we are dumb enough to believe that if society is western, Christian-ish, democratic and scientific enough, we will acquire all the power and knowledge we need to tame the terror and eliminate the darkness. But it’s been tried and done and failed a thousand times. George MacDonald warned us that the ‘quickest way to make a child bad is to try to make them good.’ How scary then if we try that coercion stunt on an entire society.
Walter Brueggemann reminds us: “In every affluent culture it is believed that enough power and knowledge can tame the terror and eliminate the darkness.” ****
* Rage Against The Machine. Wake Up, 1992. Produced by Garth Richardson. Songwriters: Tim Commerford, Zak de la Rocha, Tom Morello, Brad Wilk
** Credence Clearwater Revival, Fortunate Son, 1969. Album: Willy and The Poor Boys. Produced by John Fogarty.
*** Rodriguez. This Is Not a song, It’s An Outburst: Or, the Establishment Blues. 1970. Album: Cold Fact. Produced by Dennis Coffey & Mike Theodore
**** Walter Brueggemann, Spirituality of the Psalms (Fortress, Augsburg, 2002), p. 29.