The Day the Music Died

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Photo courtesy of M J M/flickr.
Photo courtesy of M J M/flickr.

I’m going to be honest—more honest than most people would advise; after all this is the Internet, and anything I say here will last until the collapse of our society. But that’s ok, because the Internet is also the great Equalizer: we can’t be bashful if all of us are naked somewhere online.

There aren’t many things that I enjoy, but there are a few things that I enjoy enough that I forget about everything else. I like music, and reading prose, and writing poems, and standing up high to look out over untouched nature. I like to have conversations that go places. I like falling asleep and waking up according to my own internal clock. I like pushing my body through painful tests of endurance, and then eating food that makes me feel good. I like a variety of Earthly delights that don’t need to be iterated. And most of all I like to have spare time, unplanned days, a blank page, clean slate, clear skies, open road…

This used to be a country where someone who wanted to get away from all the things he didn’t like could just strike out into the wilderness and build his own life from the ground up. That is no longer a reality anywhere, although we all like to pretend that it is. We have this idea in America that if you don’t like the way things are you can just go somewhere else, but I don’t think anyone has been able to live up to that conditional since WWI, if not earlier.

The point that I’m trying to make is that even though we all grow up with the idea that we can be whatever we want, that we’re free of tyranny and rich in opportunity, we find out sooner or later that it is all simply untrue.

Really? You mean I can be anything so long as I’m passionate and I work hard? In that case I want to be a sailor poet who lives off the sea, and I want to build my own mansion from scratch on an acre of mountaintop pasture.

Well… no. First you have to go to a prison camp—um, I mean school—for at least twelve years, where they teach you to follow instructions, as well as the role you’ll play in the social world. Then you have to decide what demeaning or intensely boring task you are willing to spend most of your life doing, so that a network of power structures can decide how many imaginary value-tokens you are worth. Then, after you’ve used a significant portion of your precious lifetime doing this task you’ve chosen, you might have earned enough value-tokens to pursue some childhood dream of yours; but not if you’ve ever been convicted of a crime, or if someone you care about gets really sick, or if you have children because then you have to pay someone else for those things, in order to keep whatever shred of satisfaction you’ve managed to find by that time.

Now I’m not trying to say that life is bad. Life is actually stunningly beautiful and enthralling and ultimately rewarding. The problem is that we’re born into this omnipresent web of artificial hierarchies and social structures, an opaque schemata held over our eyes by an accumulation of abstract fears; Indoctrinated panic is the weakness of domesticated animals.

Rousseau once asked, “What can a slave know about freedom?” Indeed. What can any of us know about the things we will never have? The curse of our kind is that we have the ability to imagine a greater existence, to envision a life of liberty and beauty that will never come true.

The American Empire marches on, as indifferent to the suffering of its own people as to the distant, faceless tribes in its path that it consumes. Even our kings are servants to a machine they helped build. A cloud of dark smoke billows forth from the engine, and only the sick have learned to breathe it.

But have no fear children, dreams are real and life is a dream. We can believe in more than hooks and lures, we can believe in better things. And if we all believe together then things will improve, because reality is shaped by the minds we make, and our minds we make ourselves.


Gibson Berglund wrote this article for Flux, an online forum for those of us encountering adulthood. Gibson is an aspiring poet and author, an anthropology enthusiast, and an amateur songwriter. He is currently moving around the Midwest, looking for a way to support a writing career.

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