I don't know whether The New Yorker does this on purpose (probably not), but sometimes an issue has a marvelous juxtaposition of articles that casts a spotlight on a Big Important Question.
Like, how best to live one's life.
After belatedly reading the November 29, 2010 issue, one approach to charting our general life course is to ask, "Would I rather be like Keith Moon or George W. Bush?" Moon was the drummer for the Who. Bush was the president of the United States.
Wildly different professions. Also, wildly different personalities -- which is my focus.
Moon, as befits his last name, was way out there. Bush, solidly down to earth. Moon was highly spontaneous in his drumming. Bush, on the other hand, hardly ever changed course after he made a decision.
Reading James Wood's "The Fun Stuff: my life as Keith Moon" made me realize that while I wouldn't want to die at thirty-two from a drug overdose like Moon did, in other respects his attitude toward music and living is pretty damn appealing to my churchless non-soul.
Some excerpts from this interesting article:
The drummer who was the drums, when I was a boy, was Keith Moon, though he was dead by the time I first heard him. He was the drums not because he was the most technically accomplished of drummers but because his joyous, semaphoring lunacy suggested a man possessed by the antic spirit of drumming. He was pure, irresponsible, restless childishness.
...There is no time-out in his drumming, because there is no time-in. It is all fun stuff. The first principle of Moon's drumming was that drummers do not exist to keep the beat. He did keep the beat, and very well, but he did it by every method except the traditional one.
Drumming is repetition, as is rock music generally, and Moon clearly found repetition dull. So he played the drums like no one else -- and not even like himself. No two bars of Moon's playing ever sound the same; he is in revolt against consistency. Everyone else in the band gets to improvise, so why should the drummer be nothing more than a condemned metronome?
...His merry way of conceding this was his now-famouis remark "I'm the best Keith Moon-style drummer in the world."
...From this exuberance emerges the second great principle of Moon's drumming; namely, that one is always performing, not recording, and that making mistakes is simply part of the locomotion of vitality.
Sure, there are rules in music, as there are rules in life. If Moon had played entirely in accord with his own inner drummer, he never could have been part of one of the greatest rock bands ever.
Likewise, doing whatever, whenever, however we want to will lead us into jail, a mental hospital, or the poor house (maybe all three). But I see Keith Moon as pointing in the direction of a truth that religions don't want us to recognize, because it threatens their existence:
Rules are made to be broken. Living life fully means sometimes going over the edge, because that's where fullness takes us.
A few pages further on in the same issue, there's a book review of George W. Bush's Presidential memoirs. George Packer's article is called "Dead Certain," for good reasons.
Bush has no tolerance for ambiguity; he can't revere his father and, on occasion, want to defy him, or lose charge of his White House for a minute, or allow himself to wonder if Iraq might ultimately fail.
...Here is another feature of the non-decision: once his own belief became known to him, Bush immediately caricatured opposing views and impugned the motives of those who held them.
If there was an honest and legitimate argument on the other side, then the President would have to defend his non-decision, taking it out of the redoubt of personal belief and into the messy emprical realm of contingency and uncertainty.
...During the war years, Bush fell in love with his own resolve, his refusal to waver, and this flaw cost Iraqis and Americans dearly. For him, the war remains "eternally right," a success with unfortunate footnotes.
Each of us has a bit of Keith Moon and George Bush within ourselves.
We seek to find a balance between our spontaneous wild child and our disciplined sober adult. Religiosity, by and large, casts its lot with the sort of steadiness, unchangingness, and certitude that Moon disdained and Bush embraced.
Day by day, moment by moment, we can choose which aspect to cultivate. All I can say is that I'm drawn to Keith Moon's archetypal manic energy much more than George Bush's "stay the course" steadfastness.
Have a look and listen. See if you feel the same. This is Moon on an isolated drum track.
And here he is with his fellow rockers on the classic "Who Are You?"