David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
The Conspiracy Cult

January 13, 2021

2020 wasn't a completely lost year. For us old farts, it ended a year of great new music from farts as old, often older than, us. I acquired more new music in 2020 than I have for any year since 2008. However, it is almost entirely new music from the old(er) guard, 13 CDs by artists whose founding members' average age is 62, Bob Dylan and Eric Bloom (of Blue Öyster Cult) pushing the average up a bit with their ages of 79 and 76, respectively.

Most of it is very good, with only The Boomtown Rats making me wonder, "really, guys, this many years later, and this is still all you got?" I am surprised by the one band that delivered the most interesting new material: Blue Öyster Cult. I almost hate writing that, because this installment is 2/5 of the band that brought the cowbell to "Don't Fear The Reaper," the thriller to "Godzilla," and the menace to "Dominance and Submission."

In the end, however, BÖC delivers a lot of timely material with The Symbol Remains. We have songs about a non-existent bar-room "Fight", the Seminole tribe putting a curse on "Florida Man," and H.P. Lovecraft turned into song with "The Alchemist" (o.k., maybe that last one is not that much of a stretch for this band that always had such a love for science fiction and fantasy that they often collaborated with well-known authors in those genres).

The one song that keeps running through my mind, especially as I click on the news or hear the rumors from around me, is "Edge Of The World," a song capturing the delusions of conspiracy theorists everywhere. Early on Eric Bloom beckons us with "trusting everything that you read/lost in your conspiracies/I want to believe/cover ups and blacked out lines." Bloom cajoles us to follow him "down the rabbit hole," because "you want the facts/now listen to me/only the truth can set you free."

The chorus, with some of Bloom's finest vocals ever, crackles with menace: "Meet me at the edge of the world/to watch it all burn/we're going to forget what we learned/we're gonna watch it all burn." The way he enunciates "burn" will make your knees weak.

Obviously this blog is a blend of the 365 artists in 365 songs series (I never did get to BÖC) with the despair that led me to post "Capitol Capital" last week.  A week later and nothing seems to change. In fact, today, as the House passed (in my opinion) a meaningless motion to impeach the president, the spin, the delusional "it's time to unify," the justification for one's cognitive dissonance, continues. However, it's not just our politicians. At least they're political people escaping down the rabbit holes that define politics.

No, it is the fact that intelligent non-politicians, folks I am supposed to respect, refuse to look for facts and fall back on their own conspiracy theories and distrust for spectres (spelling intentional as my shout out to the best BÖC album ever) that don't even exist. After all, there were university professors in Washington DC last week, potentially fueling the flames. Academic freedom and free speech, regardless of the inherent dangers, will be tested.

I continue to believe that colleges and universities are not doing a good enough job in educating us to stay away from the rabbit holes.  Two days ago, my son was bemoaning some of the "safe space" language that permeates his syllabi at Central Michigan University, and I couldn't help thinking that this is just another way critics and outsiders can, perhaps rightfully, ask, as Bloom does early in "Edge of The World," "how many times have you been under another system of control?" Higher education calls for one thing, but easily succumbs to the opposite thing.

Even our idiom of rabbit holes comes from a pseudo-academic: Lewis Carroll had a Christ Church (Oxford) Mathematical Lectureship for 26 years, a span which included Carroll's creation of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. And let's face it, that book contains the most relevant passage ever from literature: Alice says, "But I don't want to go among mad people," to which the cat responds, "oh, you can't help that. We're all mad here."

Ready to watch it all burn?

Hear BÖC's "Edge Of The World" here.