Some lost soul, either fanatically driven to murderous violence or manipulated by someone twistedly fanatical in their faith, or simply evil, blew him or herself up in Manchester, England, killing at least 22 young people leaving a concert. It is known that suicide bombers are often coerced into giving up their lives, some are fatally ill, some are mentally deficient, some have suffered a humiliation and are convinced murdering for the cause is a path to glory, others do it for a large cash payment promised to their family.
I heard the American president on the radio just now, using his sympathetic and reasonable voice. He said the people who did this horrible bombing in Manchester are losers. They might enjoy being called monsters, he said, so he was going to refer to such people as losers. He actually called them “evil losers”. Fair enough, I thought. I would like to hear violent cowards who go into schools and movie theaters and massacre people with guns referred to as ‘psychotic cowards’ or something like that, rather than ‘gunmen’. To refer to an enraged killer as a ‘gunman’ elevates a murderous, suicidal asshole to an American icon. It is the murderous coward’s fondest hope, to be remembered as a gunman.
“How’d the piece of shit die, Clem?”
“To the end he was a gunman, Luke. He died shooting, in a hail of bullets.”
“Still a piece of shit, Clem. Step back, I need to use the spittoon.”
So, I applaud the president, in principle. Deny these fucks the status they want, call them what they are. It just got me thinking, the president is consistent about only one thing in life: his devotion to winning and his hatred of losing. These categories, I have come to realize, as matter of psychological necessity, are somewhat fluid. A person can win at any cost, losing everything but victory. A person can lose fighting for others. Which person is the winner, and which the loser, is a matter of perspective.
I had a close friend for many years who saw every encounter as a zero sum game he had to win. It made him increasingly arid company. There was nothing, no matter how small, that was not the subject of exacting negotiation. Either give in at once or prepare to be ground down. He simply had to get the better of every negotiation. In his case, the youngest of three boys, he felt he’d never received the respect, validation and unconditional love he deserved. This is an unbearable feeling, and the intensity of his sense of personal injustice turned him into a kind of monster. In the game of life, American Dream version, he won. He eventually became wealthy, a self-made success who parlayed a tiny food business that began in his kitchen into a small empire. The people who worked for him either quit or accepted a bad deal. Some took violent reprisals against him. Through it all, he made more and more money.
His mother died a while back at almost 100 years old. She worried about him, how he alienated everybody, had to be right no matter what the cost. She was distraught about what would become of him after she died. She was right to worry. His oldest brother contacted me before the memorial service, though I’d stopped being friends with his brother many years earlier. He beseeched me to reach out to my former friend, I was the only person he had. I was not surprised that he’d managed to alienate everybody he’d ever met and was terribly alone. I reached out, because of my great love and respect for his mother, but eventually had to drive a stake deep into the poor bastard’s heart. Our suddenly revived email correspondence was excruciating and I had to put an end to it. He was still looking to be the righteous soul, persecuted by a vicious world of people like me.
I heard the ghost writer of “The Art of the Deal” talking about the man whose name is on the cover. He got to know the man well over the course of collaborating on the book. He described the man’s father, Fred, as a vicious, implacable, loveless man. Fred was impossible to please, yet the son tried, endlessly. I have some sympathy for this, my father was in essential ways the same kind of destructive prick. The son’s solution was different from mine. He was determined to become known as the world’s most fabulous winner. It did not hurt that his unloving father left him something on the order of $100,000,000 to begin his path to winning with. This made his constant ‘doubling down’ and upping the ante when wrong easier for him than for most people.
My former friend, a boy who also viewed all interactions as existential contests he had to win, got about two or three million dollars when his mother died. If it made him happy in any way, I do not know. I would not place a bet on his happiness, I’d certainly not double down on the bet, though he is, in a very tangible way, a winner.
Now back to the man who called the Manchester terrorists evil losers. They are evil losers because they indiscriminately killed innocent children and young adults. I agree with his assessment. Fucking losers, evil fucking losers at that. But, if you are going to do essentially the same thing, when the timing is right, leaving an eight year-old girl to writhe for hours dying of an American bullet in her spine, fired by US Special Forces during a botched raid you ordered to make yourself look powerful, you… well, there’s really no end to that sentence. When you order the killing of anyone in the Yemeni compound, and a dozen of the killed happen to be children, you may be regarded as an evil loser. Although, of course, if you are the American president, then actually you will generally be lauded as a winner. These decisions are mind-blowingly complicated, the pressures on the Leader of the Free World are immense, he made a hard call, etc. When you congratulate the widow of the elite special forces soldier that you ordered into a senseless, fruitless raid in which he was killed, along with a dozen or more children, the pundits will take a collective breath and call you a winner, for being so presidential and everything. I have a pretty good idea what you really are, sir, what your deepest fear is, the thing that relentlessly drives you, has always driven you.
I thought about my former friend’s musical talent, which is substantial. In terms of talent, and how far he has taken it, he is far beyond what I can do musically. Yet, if I was going to play with either of us, I would choose to play with me. You will not be surprised to learn that he is a perfectionist, and can only collaborate when everything is lined up perfectly to his liking. He will teach you one of his tunes, which are difficult, and you will have to master it before any real music gets made. As often as not, no music will happen, though you both sit with instruments.
A loser like me, much more limited in his musical palette, will look for the beat, a bass line, lock into some groove, lay something down, play a blues lick. Something will catch, something I heard you do will give me an idea, which I’ll add to whatever else is going on. I’ll be looking for music, instead of looking for that fatal weakness that eventually translates to our inevitable death. We may all be dying, but there’s a lot to share before we do. I always feel that way, anyway.