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Hot Takes on Cold Wars

I have had the same beat stuck in my head for over 17 years. That is not an exaggeration. It’s not some twisted humble brag on my brain’s super advanced rumination skills. It just is. It’s wuh-duh-duh-duh-DUH. Short short short short LONG. Drip dripdripdripDROP. It’s percussive. It’s knocking. It’s industrial. It’s a military march. It’s a factory. It’s annoying as hell, but it’s fine. It’s just the rhythm to which my life has determined to set itself, the soundtrack in the background of the film. If anything, I mostly only notice when it isn’t there or when things get extra intense and it sidles it’s way to the foreground.

I’m not sure what about this song in particular cemented it into my consciousness so firmly. Maybe it just matched my anxiety fingerprint too perfectly, and I imprinted on the song. Perhaps it was playing in the background to some trauma I experienced and that set of neurons decided to just hang back right there every day forever. Considering the timing, it almost certainly was in the background of some kind of trauma. I had PTSD and was steamrolling my way through stupid decisions and doubling down on a very bad vibe every chance I could.

Had the devil approached me in 2004 in my gap semester between an early high school graduation and a late freshman orientation while I languished behind the counter of a GameStop being casually sexually harassed by customers and coworkers all afternoon, he might have said, “Hey, here’s a new record by one of your favorite bands. It’s cool. You know the war that started a couple years ago and will continue well into your own children’s lives? This is about that and how horrible it is. This won’t be remembered as their best work, not by a longshot. But here, give it a listen, and then never stop hearing it forever, just like war will never stop playing in the background of your news.”

And I might have said, “Sweet. I’ll pop it into the XBox demo machine because I am sick of hearing the trailer for Madden rap ‘Vick, Michael Vick’ on repeat,” because I had no idea I was trading external repetition for internal incessantness. I was adopting a new heartbeat, like my own thoughts. And one of the reasons it’s mostly fine is that it’s just the percussion. Only when I’m incredibly stressed out does Werrrrrrrrrrr-RRRR breath breath breath GO TO SLEEP GO TO SLEEP GO TO SLEEP GO TO SLEEP enter the equation, and that typically involves some pacing, some distraction, some mitigation.

And somehow in a million years of therapy, I’m always too busy talking about actual events in my life and never get around to talking about the utterly mundane SCREAMING IN MY HEAD. I did have a breakthrough at one point on a mind trip during which my fellow traveler decided to play a TOOL album, and I realized, “Hey, it’s actually completely abnormal and unreasonable to live in a time where one person who you don’t even know can have such a massive presence in your consciousness,” and I left the room because, frankly, it was time for broader input.

It’s completely fucking weird that I think of a stranger as my first-name-basis brain-friend, that I can conjure them up in my mind with no effort as if we were siblings, that they have been there for so many of my happiest days and more prevalently setting the scene in the waking nightmares of my adolescence. Meanwhile, to them I am a face in a crowd with no desire or interest in being anything more than a face in the crowd, embracing the offering of their art.

It’s the same with politics and talk shows and podcasts and everything else. You feel like they’re your real surroundings. The individuals putting it out matter so much to you. There’s enough content of just them out there that if you wanted to, you could exclusively listen to them speak and sing, all day, every day. You know them so intimately. It feels like you are in some mutual relationship when in fact they gave the world in general their work and you gave that work specifically your heart, unasked and unrequited. It’s a one-sided and self-induced possession by ephemera.

Don’t get me wrong, I do and will always love all three iterations of MJK bands (especially and not just to be contrarian, Puscifer) but I am not a fan girl in the sense that I center any part of my life or identity around them. That’s what their lives are for. Mine is for me. So you see where it becomes more of a nuisance than a pleasure to have some very specific group of men’s very specific viewpoint barrelling through your head when you’re just trying to live your life. God bless them, and lord knows teenage me wouldn’t have changed a damn thing, but teenage me also probably would have agreed to play NIN at my wedding, so adult me would love some boundaries.

I digress from the point. The point is that the song in my mind all the time is Counting Bodies Like Sheep to the Rhythm of the War Drums by A Perfect Circle. And when it really becomes a nuisance is when global events start syncing up to the rhythm of the war drums, just as they are right now. The video to that song, which I haven’t watched in years but figured I would just now when linking it, really squares in on old GW, which I think is a strong reminder of how very not cool things were before they went straight circus on us. If you were a teenager during 9/11 and the beginning of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, you were keenly aware of how not cool they were. There’s even a very strong chance that you were anti-war, that you did not ever manage to land the mental gymnastics required to justify that war, to become xenophobic, or to villainize a whole section of the globe. Or maybe you did. Just a little. Because propaganda is god damn effective.

Which brings us to today. Here is my whole take on Ukraine, as asked by no one. First, I should say I cannot stand listening to people talk about the generations. Boomers, Xers, Millennials, Zoomers. What weird and stupid tribes to have compartmentalized ourselves in. Our division wasn’t bad enough, so we decided to really zero in on date ranges and codify why our own parents and children suck. Grow up. Your grandparents, The Greatest Generation, or whoever it was that last existed without constant self-referential discussions and who did not find it novel and hysterical that their peers shared experiences and sentiments with them, may have had some sense in their dignity.

Having said that, I won’t pretend I am above the fray here or that there aren’t obvious shared qualities amongst age groups because technology, ethics, and expectations have changed so rapidly, tattooing each of us with the flavor of the moment. I get it. I do it. And ostensibly, that’s what this article is about.

Of course, Russia. There are people coming to the last laps of their lives, people who were not a part of WW2, people who have seen only proxy wars and abject military failure out of complete military might while their childhoods were haunted by the constant looming threat of the Cold War. Their entire mental and emotional development occurred within the amniotic sac of anti-Soviet propaganda and vice versa. Of course Putin and Biden and every other Baby Boomer were going to have to confront the primary conflict of their collective hero’s journey. Were they going to just hand over the reins to the next generation with so much business unfinished? No. So initiate Act 4,000 of a saga that just wavers in volume over the years.

I remember in the events following 9/11, I was horrified and confused about how everything was shaking out to war in a whole, seemingly unrelated country. In 2016 when maximum drama erupted, I was not confused at all about why Russia, who meant very little to people my age, was a very big deal. To a generation, it is literally their whole deal. When my dad was a kid, he studied Russian, and he hid under the desks at school with everyone else when they practiced for nuclear attacks. It was such a big deal that he grew up to be a nuclear engineer. It was such a big deal that when the Berlin Wall fell, his work took him to Soviet nuclear plants to try to make up for decades of stunted communication. Russia was the focal point of his whole American life.

As a child, I had Russian penpals, Russian dolls, Russian phone calls, Russian worries about an often absent father traversing the former USSR. I have home videos of my father in Kyiv and weird aerial photos of Chernobyl in our family photo albums. As an adult, my questions and concerns about that particular part of our lives run so much deeper, but that’s a tale for another day. Russia was more a given fact of being raised by parents who were children in the 60’s than even the Beatles. Of course Russia. It was never not Russia. Russia is the thing that's in their heads all the time, was the character they knew that didn't know them, was the omnipresent foe to their hero, no more real or invested in them than your favorite band is in you. The only difference is that our parents were too busy playing the shit out of capitalism to remember to indoctrinate us against whatever and whoever not-capitalism is.

Does that help Ukraine? No. Does that help people my age from feeling like in all our adulthood we’re still being screamed at to shut up in the backseat of a wildly swerving Vanagon that’s about to go off the fucking road? No. If I have to have a conversation with my kids, does, “Because people your grandparents’ age all around the world are processing some childhood trauma,” suffice as an explanation for war? Absolutely fucking not. But at least it makes sense. At least when my brain lurches ever onward wuh-duhduhduhDUH to an anti-war song inspired by the previous generation’s anti-war sentiments from before they threw the next into the very same grinder and are now threatening a third, it has a narrative throughline. And that’s really all we’re ever doing when we “unpack” things. We’re finding the throughline and understanding why it is. We’re making sense out of pain, and that doesn’t erase anything that happened. Maybe, though, maybe we make so much sense that we have compassion, and maybe we offer so much compassion that we change the world, and we wake up, and the song stops playing.

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