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Motion Pictures II

It was Prospect Park, Brooklyn, way back in the winter of ’03-’04. I lived in a tiny apartment in a converted mansion that was once the home of Thomas Adams, a chewing gum pioneer. Like most broken men trying to find themselves, I didn’t realize that I was already there. Alone, facing the future in a strange place, but right where I needed to be. Snow mounted outside but the steam heat worked and the sun would pour in the parapet window pure and strong. The black coffee was strong, too, and I’d sit and type away, occasionally hitting on a few good thoughts. Then I’d wrap myself up to the nines and go run around that park in the freezing air, pushing forty but in the best shape of my life, cheap earphones plugged into my tiny MP3 player loaded with a few choice tunes. The one that stuck out was Neil Young’s “Motion Pictures” from the album “On The Beach.” Not exactly the kind of fire-up music one typically associates with running in sub-zero temperatures but it fit perfectly. “All those headlines / they just bore me now / I’m deep inside myself, but I’ll get out somehow ..” And I suppose I did, eventually, and have been trying to get back inside ever since.

The small MP-3 player was a precursor to the iPhone that would soon follow. MySpace was about to be supplanted by Facebook and Google had yet to take over the world. I had a small platform on a website for New York “newcomers” and soon anybody who owned a phone would have a platform. Youtube was a year away; Twitter, Periscope and Tik-Tok were all on the distant horizon.

And so here we are and there’s no going back. No putting the proverbial genie back in the smartphone. If ever there was a good time to shut it all off and go for a run it’s now, but there is no shutting it off. This was always the cautionary tale that came with Artificial Intelligence — it can’t be unplugged or disabled. And it has run in perfect conjunction with the dumbing down of society. Mike Judge’s “Idiocracy” from 2006 seems wildly prophetic and a particular George Carlin quote keeps coming up and back: “Think of how stupid the average person is and realize half of them are stupider than that.” Idiocy is elevated and celebrated. Those pointing out the idiots are bigger idiots, still. It’s all reminiscent of the finale for that last, great bit of western art, “The Sopranos.” Agent Harris, hearing that Tony Soprano’s principal rival Phil Leotardo has been killed, exalts “Damn! We’re gonna win this thing!”  Of course, by then it’s all over and an abrupt cut to black is just around the corner.

So how close are we to that abrupt cut ourselves? I’d say it all hinges on our last chance to unplug and whether it’s already passed. Every source of news and information is infiltrated by complete bullshit at present. We’re looking into the other’s eyes to get a true sense of where we stand, faces covered with masks, and standing six feet apart. All advice seems bad, all leaders un-trustable. We’re all Agent Harris, hoping our personal dark horse might win the race.

The Neil Young song was and still is perfect. It made me think of my dad back then and how it might be a good anthem at his funeral. Motion Pictures. People still use the word — “film” — without a trace of irony. They “filmed” that guy in Minneapolis being killed; “filmed” some guy caught up in a riot, getting his head split open. Even its replacement, videotape, is obsolete now. Thus the double-irony of those thinking they’re using that one correctly. Everything is, appropriately enough, ones and zeros. Pick a number, pick a side.

Dad died a few years back and I didn’t play the tune at his funeral. But it went off well, none the less. Neil wrote the song for Carrie Snodgress, a young love. I suppose there’s always hope.

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