WEIRDLAND: Deaths of Despair, Jim Morrison & Pam

Friday, March 06, 2020

Deaths of Despair, Jim Morrison & Pam

From economist Anne Case and Nobel Prize winner Angus Deaton, Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism (2020) paints a troubling portrait of the American dream in decline. For the white working class, today's America has become a land of broken families and few prospects. Case and Deaton tie the crisis to the weakening position of labor, the growing power of corporations, and, above all, to a rapacious health-care sector. Capitalism, which over two centuries has lifted countless people out of poverty, is now destroying the lives of blue-collar America. 

Kevin MacDonald (Individualism and The Western Liberal Tradition): My basic theory here is that it’s not really about despair. I argue there are two things at work here: one is the decline in our culture generally brought about by the 1960s’ counter-cultural revolution affecting health in childhood, marriage, child rearing, and religion. But added to that is a very specific situation involving a corrupt pharmaceutical industry, especially Purdue Pharma owned by the Sackler family, and lax government regulation because of manipulation by the pharmaceutical industry. The increasing trend toward low-investment parenting in the United States largely coincides with the triumph of the psychoanalytic and radical critiques of American culture represented by the cultural success of the counter-cultural movement of the 1960s. The irony (hypocrisy?) is that Erich Fromm and the other members of the Frankfurt School, who strongly identified with a highly collectivist group, advocated radical individualism for the society as a whole. 

In his book Coming Apart Charles Murray notes that for Whites beginning in the 1960s, there has been an increase in crime, lower levels of religiosity, work ethic, and marriage. For the upper-middle class, marriage went from 94% to 84% between 1960 and 2010, but for the White working class it went from 82% to 48%. For the White working class, never-married went from 10% to 25%; and there has been dramatically lower work force participation. Murray attributes this to a loss of “virtue” but he doesn’t discuss the forces behind this massive cultural shift. The steep upward trend in social/family dysfunction begins in the 1960s and continues to climb until around 1990 when it temporarily falls back before reaching new highs. According to Case and Deaton, the increased mortality among the White working class begins in the 1990s. The first cohort to really show increased mortality was the one born in 1950—they were 40 years old in 1990 and thus the first generation to experience the counter-cultural revolution as teenagers. For every cohort after that, the increased mortality from drugs, alcohol, and suicide starts at an earlier age and is steeper—it gets to higher levels faster. I suspect that if the cultural supports that existed up until the late 1950s had remained in place, the White working class would not have succumbed to the opioid epidemic. In this regard it’s interesting that the first generation to show increased mortality was the one that became teenagers in the 1960s. Source:

In Human, All Too Human (1878), Nietzsche elaborates that all human symbolism – even music – is rooted in the ‘imitation of gesture’ at work in Greek tragedy. Nietzsche began writing his tragedy only after breaking off relations with his friends, the psychologist Paul Rée and Lou Andreas-Salomé, the woman they both loved. Nietzsche believed that he had found in Andreas-Salomé the one person who understood his quest for a radical affirmation of life. He made plans with her and Rée to live together in an intellectual society that she called their ‘Unholy Trinity’. However, due primarily to suspicions planted by Nietzsche’s sister Elisabeth, the trio’s plans did not materialise. A despondent Nietzsche wrote to his dear friend Franz Overbeck: ‘Unless I can discover the alchemical trick of turning this – muck into gold, I am lost.’ Nietzsche’s ubiquitous references to dance are ever-present reminders that the work of overcoming oneself – of freeing oneself enough from anger, bitterness and despair. David Lynch said that understanding pain and anxiety can be essential to creating great art, but that actually experiencing pain and anxiety can be toxic to the creative process. Freud’s quest for light echoes the ancient Greek ‘know thyself’. But I am also reminded of an old Talmudic verse, probably dated from the same era as Socrates: ‘If you meet the devil, shine on it the light of knowledge. If it is stone, it evaporates; if it is metal, annihilates.’ What a triumph to the human spirit is the belief that the hardiness, nastiness and ‘stone-ness’ of our nature can be overcome by the ‘light of knowledge’. Source:

Recent years have seen an increasing number of studies on relationship extradyadic behaviors (Silva et al., 2017; Fisher, 2018). Individuals who perceived themselves as being more attractive tended to have a higher sexual desire and higher relationship quality. However, these extradyadic behaviors can have serious consequences, such as low self-esteem, mental problems, loss of trust, decreased personal and sexual confidence, rage, and guilt. A cross-cultural study with a sample of 186 societies found that in every culture, both males and females actively resort to mate-guarding tactics in order to try to control their mate’s extradyadic behaviors. Studies have shown that approximately 22–25% of men and 15–20% of women report having sex with someone other than their spouse while been married. In a study of Mark et al. (2011), 23.2% of men and 19.2% of women indicated that they had engaged in sexual interactions with someone other than their partner. Specifically, women who perceived themselves as being relatively more attractive had a tendency to report a higher sexual desire than those who perceived themselves as being relatively less attractive. This result was not obtained for men. Previous research has shown that women who consider themselves physically attractive show a greater preference for masculinity and symmetry, suggesting that these women may attempt to maximize phenotypic quality in potential partners. What is described as the “human mind” component is the cardinal dimension of the affective human space. This dimension maps states “purely mental and human specific vs. bodily and shared with animals”, which is in line with our interpretation of emotional complexity. Source:

“If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about answers.” ―Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow. The issue is that "Rock" as we define it, is no longer the driving force of culture that it used to be. It's not cool anymore or even feasible to be an outsider. Rock always thrived on individuality. Instead, Rap and EDM are more tribal. Popular music took a very drastic turn for the worse after the 1996 Telecommunications Act was passed. The effects started being felt big time in 1998, with the FCC allowing the creation of streaming monopolies. Rock didn't stand a chance from that point on. Much easier to market and control pop and rap than Rock. There's still some quality rock music being made (electric guitar rock will never die off entirely) but unlike from the 50's-90's you have to actively search for it - you're not going to hear it otherwise. 

“Do you know we are ruled by TV? Sometimes a moment is enough to forget a lifetime. But other times a lifetime is not enough to forget one moment.” ―Jim Morrison. In Pittsburgh, on May 2, 1970, for the fourth number of the set, the band hammers into Roadhouse Blues, and the drama unfolds when Morrison descends into the bubbling swamp of the tune. He disappears into the maw of the music and keeps going—he sustains it all for a solid minute. In that long minute, Morrison sings the whole song in another language, one only he could speak, but that anyone could understand. All of that was in “Roadhouse Blues”: not as autobiography, not as confession, not as a cry for help or a fuck you to whoever asked, but, as Louise Brooks liked to quote, she said, from an old dictionary, “a subjective epic composition in which the author begs leave to treat the world according to his own point of view.” The Sixties come forth as a time and place where people lived by breaking rules they know are right, mainly to see what might happen. What I remember most about the Dinner Key Auditorium concert in Miami was the feeling that if Morrison had passed out, we might have cheered as spectators in the Roman colosseum Morrison imagined himself in. This moment hit not like some defining event in one person’s insignificant life, but as a moment in history. —"The Doors: A Lifetime of Listening to Five Mean Years" (2013) by Greil Marcus

-Greil Marcus: There’s a hint of undifferentiated loathing and decay in the video for Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” the most surprising hit of 1991—and irony may be the currency in the five minutes that pass as the band grinds out its corroding punk chords. Words take a long time to emerge from Cobain’s hoarse throat—but the feeling of humiliation, disintegration, of defeat by some distant malevolence, is what the music says by itself. This is one of the least spectacular and most suggestive videos ever made, and everything about it is slightly off. As the cheerleaders lift their pom-poms, stretching to the roof even more spookily than Cobain expands his fuzztone, they could belong in the ‘50s; the crowd is dressed in an indecipherable motley of styles from the ’70s through the ’80s; the musicians look like ’60s hippies who had to hitchhike for three days to make the gig. Slow motion is used but it seems like real time. Kids snap their heads back and forth to the music but they don’t give off any sense of pleasure. Cobain communicates not abandon and joy but hopelessness and mistrust of his audience. A string comes loose on his guitar, he hangs sound in the air while he fixes it, and you lose all sense of performance. Cobain rails out a blank curse: “A denial! A denial!” Of what? By whom? The moods and talismans of five rock ‘n’ roll decades are in the little play, and as it finishes, implodes, scatters, it seems as good a death as the music could ask for. Sometimes, though, you need to speak without irony—and the irony in “Smells Like Teen Spirit” can’t really filter the corruption in rock. For any attempt to talk about the death of rock must finally be made without irony, even if that ensures that the fool is the only role left to play. For there is no way to talk about the death of rock without facing what, exactly, is being consigned to the scrap heap—without recognizing what is being given up. Source:

Finally, there actually is some stuff out there suggesting Jim Morrison was a good guy who people didn't really know. I was of the school of thought that Morrison was a talented artist who happened to be a deplorable human being. However, I've done quite a bit of independent research into the matter and gradually found that much of what I had believed as fact was actually untrue. In the course of several discussions in Frank Lisciandro's Friends Gathered Together, numerous myths are shattered, and the true image of Morrison takes shape as a man who was actually quite shy and soft-spoken, generous to a fault, who was very rarely provoked to anger, and a man who cared little for personal possessions. I appreciated his interest in seeing the world from different perspectives by listening to the different people he met throughout his life. In particular, he enjoyed getting a woman's perspective on issues, as Bill Siddons' wife Cheri recalls.

It's a very different portrait of the man when compared to the way he was characterized in the media during his life, never mind the way he's been portrayed since his death. Author Lisciandro first met Jim Morrison in 1964 at UCLA film school, where both were studying, and he became one of Jim's closest friends until the singer's death in Paris in 1971. His goal was to get different and accurate perspectives on who Jim Morrison was as a man and to strip away the layers of myth and falsehoods. Jim Morrison wasn’t a chauvinist, according to his lover Eva Gardony in the chapter “This Affair of Ours” from Friends Gathered Together.  Source:

-Eva Gardony: Jim was a wonderful person to be with because he was so giving. He was giving of his time, of his attention a great deal. He treated me as his intellectual equal. I found him very shy the first time I met him. I find him very self-editing. It was very strange, because, before I met him, I heard the stories about him and I was ready to meet this incredibly out-of-control, crazed man. And when I met him I was surprised how quiet, how observant he was. I just found him very shy; painfully shy. He said he liked me for a long time before. He had a crush on me then, which I didn’t know. I thought he was a maniac depressive, probably undiagnosed.  

-Frank Lisciandro: Coming from your Hungarian culture, what was your impression of Jim onstage?

-Eva Gardony: My impression of Jim onstage was absolute amazement, because I had met this very shy and timid and always smiling Jim with no visible aggression whatsoever. And then I see him onstage performing rock and roll, and his command of his audience was startling. Total transformation as far as I’m concerned. I had heard about his bad reputation and then nothing of the sort came out. Only time when I’d see something of it was when he was onstage. He never talked about this transformation. He was extremely shy about it. He didn’t want to really discuss his onstage act as such, but it was just very interesting to see this amazing strength that he could show on people.

-Frank Lisciandro: Do you think he liked the company of women more than he liked the company of men; in terms of who he would hang out with?

-Eva Gardony: He really liked women but he felt more comfortable with the boys. I mean, obviously, look at you three guys, you always hung out together: Babe, you and Jim.

-Frank Lisciandro: Did Jim ever talk about any of the women he was with?

-Babe Hill: No. Jim was absolutely the most discrete gentleman. I mean, a gentleman, a true southern gentleman. And if we could go out and find all these girls, they’d tell you the same thing.

-Babe Hill: Jim never made excuses for Pamela or tried to explain her attitude. Anyway, I got along with Pam. When Jim went to London and Pam had that little place in Topanga, I went down there and I took care of Sage [Jim and Pam’s dog], and the place for a month or two. And we just got along together famously. She thought everybody was taking advantage of Jim and riding on his coattails and we just hit it off, as if me and Jim didn’t have that kind of relationship. In fact, the night before Pam died [April 25, 1974], she told me on the phone that she wanted to buy a ranch someplace and wanted me “to come up and take care of it.” We were supposed to get together for breakfast that next morning and discuss it, and then the next morning she never showed up. Tom Baker called her house, and her mother answered the phone and said she was dead. And then they had that memorial service for both Jim and Pam after Pam died. So I was going through the line, meeting these people in Pam’s family. And there’s this lady there and it’s Corky’s wife, Penny [Pam’s mother]. I said, “I’m Babe.” And she grabbed me and hugged me and said, “Oh, Babe, Pam loved you so much.’ And that made me feel like a million bucks, man. So, no, we never had any problems, me and Pam. —"Jim Morrison: Friends Gathered Together" (2014) by Frank Lisciandro

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