Demon Seed

In 1996, I started seventh grade. I’d spent the last year at a private Christian school, and in my mind I was delving back into the secular cesspit of public education – just another face in the unwashed masses of cigarette-smoking swear-word-using pornography-addicted heathens.

As you can imagine, even in the ‘religulous’ deep South, this was not a world view that made me particularly popular. What most ostracized me was my taste in music. In addition to radio-friendly hits of the fifties and sixties as selected by the local “Oldies” station, I listened to a bunch of Christian punk bands that no one outside of a Baptist book store had ever heard of. But even I knew what that “NIN” (with the backwards ‘N’) scratched in white-out on everyone else’s Jansport backpack meant.

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Never Forget

In 1970, if you heard an anti-war song, I’d imagine it was an entirely reasonable assumption that it was a Vietnam protest song. There were enough of them to go around, and many of your most revered anthems by prolific songwriters of the era drew inspiration from speaking out against what they felt was an unjustifiable war.

Despite that, members of Black Sabbath have stated “War Pigs” actually wasn’t a Vietnam protest song. Bill Ward claims the band was anti-Vietnam, but Ozzy Osbourne has been quoted as saying they really didn’t know anything about Vietnam at all. Rather, “War Pigs” was a song about the horrors of war in general. Anti-Vietnam, sure, but generally, not specifically. Instead, the War Pigs were fictitious, archetypal evil minds that plot destruction – not just in 1970, but throughout humanity’s history. Given that Black Sabbath generally writes about fantasy, mythology, and sci-fi, rarely venturing into politics, I’m inclined to believe it – “War Pigs” was a fiction, maybe inspired by current events surrounding Vietnam, but not about it specifically.

When I covered “War Pigs”, I wanted to release it as an EP with something original along the same lines. I wrote about a near-future dystopia. One where a country is embroiled in endless wars for profit, and raises up generation after generation of youth to fight in them. They maintain the illusion of choice, of voluntary service; but through propaganda, social engineering, and economic manipulation, they plan children’s whole developmental process around making good soldiers, and give all but the most privileged of young people few other realistic choices. An America where our schools focus more on teaching obedience and tribalist loyalty than academics. An America where a living wage, education, and healthcare are inaccessible unless you enlist. An America where we sell our kids on the idea that going to war is the most noble choice a person can make, but minimize the risks and long-term effects, and then neglect them and deny them care when they come home physically wounded or emotionally traumatized.

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Fear and Loathing in Harrison County

One of my favorite underrated writers, David Searcy, wrote in the 2002 horror novel Last Things:

.. right at the vague, obscure convergence of three states just as they seem to lose distinctive state-like qualities; individual picture-postcard characteristics fall away toward something pleasant enough – the trees, the numerous artificial lakes – but slack somehow, without conviction. They even name it. Arklatex. Or The Arklatex. The local TV reporters like to use the term a lot – the news from nowhere in particular live at five and there it is sure enough it might be anywhere with pine trees, red dirt, artificial lakes.

David Searcy, Last Things

He talks about the Arklatex as apprehensive, uneasy – uncertain of its place in the world. I think about that passage a lot when I drive past the pine trees and red dirt. If you get on US Route 80 in Shreveport, Louisiana and drive west, you’ll soon find yourself in Harrison County. It’s the next-door neighbor to Upshur County and Gilmer, Texas, the setting of Mr. Searcy’s critically-panned novel. Like him, I find these stretches of mundane, featureless highway ominous somehow. In the 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers, (what’s the spoiler statute of limitations? We’re talking about a movie that’s old enough to collect Social Security) the protagonist stumbles upon a duplicate that’s not fully developed yet. The face is vague, and the body doesn’t have fingerprints – all the features, but no details; no character, no lines – like the first impression that’s stamped on a coin. Those swaths of nowhere in particular, I think, are unsettling for the same reasons – they might be anywhere with pine trees, red dirt, and artificial lakes – a maze of twisty little passages, all alike.

Exploring those back roads with their country graveyards and barbed-wire fences is kind of a hobby of ours. Driving past rural churches and gas stations with sun-bleached, hand-lettered signs; looking for deer and cattle; imagining what life is like behind porch screen doors and under rusted metal roofs. And listening to music – hours of music.

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