Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Sunday, November 13, 2005

they turn in clusters

I haven’t posted much in the last week for a few reasons. First, I’ve had a cold and haven’t had much spare energy after work and family life. Second, some awful news about a friend of the family set me spinning, and I didn’t feel like writing. And third, I’ve been trying to write songs for National Solo Album Month.

I’ve finished setting the closing paragraph of Scooter Libby’s letter to Judy Miller, which Alex Ross suggested as a song text. I’m happy with the music; it isn’t quite like anything else I’ve ever written. I went for a stately and somber and lyrical tone. And when I was done, I asked myself,
what the hell is this?

Scooter Libby could be an emblem for a lot of what I loathe about our present government; he has been an important cog in the machinery of death, deceit, dishonor, and deficits that is the driving force of the administration’s agenda.

A lot of lefty commentators have speculated that Libby’s letter may have been a coded attempt to suborn perjury from Miller. Miller and Libby both had attended the Aspen Institute where the administration’s adventurist agenda had been mooted; “turn in clusters” may have been a plea for solidarity on the witness stand.

If so, that would make Libby’s primary motivation in the letter (song) fear: He’s frightened of ending up in prison.

I’ve written before that Fear is the central driver of the administration’s foreign policy, that fear had been the defining feature of the key members of the administration’s relationship to foreign events. The neo-cons have consistently overestimated the threats to America, from Soviet Russia (where Cheney had said that Gorbachev’s dismantling of the empire was fakery) to Iraq. And this is consistent with their personal biographies: all of the top members of Bush’s administration supported the war in Viet Nam, and, aside from Colin Powell, not one of them fought it.

From this profound experience of personal cowardice, the Bush administration honchos have fashioned their worldview and their policies. They have projected their own cowardice onto America’s (very real) enemies. Hence, the insane strategy of “Shock and Awe,” wherein they posited that Iraq would simply surrender after the initial bombardment of March 2003. Hence, Cheney’s dogged insistence on a policy of torturing prisoners, wherein Cheney imagines himself in the victim’s chair, and knows without a doubt that he will spill everything he knows, pronto. It’s all about their own fears.

The administration’s cowardice-projection blinds them to this reality of history: that thousands of people have in fact fought and died for causes they believe in, including America’s present (very real) enemies. Suicide bombers are, by definition, undeterrable. The Bush administration does not understand this; they would have to confront their own cowardice to do so.

But the Bush administration is blind to its cowardice, and from their own perspectives, Cheney and Libby and Bush and Rove and the rest are behaving honorably: They are doing what they believe needs to be done to protect America. Even if Saddam Hussein posed no threat to America, we needed to conquer him anyway, to show everybody else that we mean business. Any lies or crimes committed were in the service of what they perceived to be that higher good. Likewise, if Scooter Libby has to lie now to keep himself out of prison, if he has to send coded messages to Judy Miller, asking her to lie to keep him out of prison, well, he doesn’t deserve to prosecuted anyway. So he writes what he perceives to be a lyrical (possibly coded) letter to Judy Miller. And if the letter fails of lyricism, it’s not for lack of trying.

And if my melody fails of beauty, it’s not for lack of trying.

All of the other post-songwriting analyses that I’ve touched on here, unfortunately I lack the compositional skills to address in the music itself. I was just trying to be true to the (possibly very false-hearted) words.

Setting Libby’s letter to music has humanized him for me. Fear is a basic human feeling; I can relate. It’s a shame and a terrible pity and a horror, how these people have acted on and translated their fears, and the resulting death and destruction; but writing this song has made me hate them personally a little bit less. I just wish for them a nice long, peaceful prison sentence to give them time to repent of and expiate their crimes against humanity.
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