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When Sigmund Freud launched modern psychology by naming the hidden recesses of the human mind, the unconscious, superego, id, and the rest, he forgot a part—perhaps the most mysterious part of all—The Soundtrack.

If the exhaustive survey I conducted is true (I asked my wife) then most of us have a song running around in our heads most of the time. This ever-changing score, programmed for us by our brains, provides the musical accompaniment to our lives.

We don’t chose the selection playing on our soundtrack, but it affects us profoundly.

Let the right tune be looping through your head and life is happy thing, your mood as buoyant as a child’s. But let the wrong song get stuck in your mind and all is dark.

Your own brain will torture you. An obnoxious melody, harder to shake than a stalker, makes your life a joyless heap of ashes. You have Soundtrack Madness.

For as long as it lasts, and it will seem like forever, you’ll struggle helplessly with an invader as hostile as any virus. You will curse the day you ever heard of Gary Puckett and the Union Gap. “Young girl, get out of my miiind….” indeed. And take this piece of crap song with you.

Soundtrack Madness can strike without warning. Maybe you were at the office Christmas party when some goon croaked out “New York, New York” on the karaoke machine for fifteen excruciating minutes, and now you’ve got it so bad it feels like your combover is on fire.

“Dom dom doobie dom. Start spreading the noooz, I’m leaving todaaay,” the infection takes hold. It haunts you on the drive home. It’s still there when you cut yourself shaving the next morning.

“I want to wake up, in the city, that never sleeeps….” Over and over. Your brain is melting. What can you do?

Well, we here at Caught off Base can help. But like a bad case of the hiccups, the cure won’t work until the disease is ripe.

In the meantime, let’s learn something about the enemy.

What are the characteristics of song with high Soundtrack Madness potential? The first hint is any song that is so catchy you remember it the first time you hear it. Let one of those pieces of pop Velcro enter your ears and soon enough it will be repeating on you like a microwave burrito. If you like it the first time you hear it, you’ll hate it by the fifth.

Even a decent song can turn toxic if it is forced on you too often. Surely a vengeful God reserves the ninth circle of hell for the monsters who use our cultural patrimony to sell Toyotas. Twenty to life in the Empire State Building listening to the elevator version of Eleanor Rigby would be too good for those SOBs.

The first person to describe Soundtrack Madness was (as in so many things) Mark Twain. He wrote a piece 130 years ago where his hero gets a workman’s jingle stuck in his brain, and the only cure was to infect someone else with it.

Fortunately, modern medicine has made great strides since then. We have more humane treatment options than dreamed of back in the 19th century.

The cure for Soundtrack Madness now is replacement therapy, or Musical Transplant. All one need do is put another, more palatable song into one’s head, and the cure is effected. But there is a catch.

The new song has to be even stickier than the first. Only the most infectious of ditties will do the job. Cole Porter can’t help you here. Think Freddie Boom-Boom Cannon.

That’s the cure for the horrible sickness that’s boring into your synapses like a dentist’s drill. But for the treatment to take the pain has to be nearly intolerable.

Are you there yet? Are you hearing that awful song until your eyes cross?

“If I can—doom doom—make it there, I’ll make it—doom doom—anywhere. It’s up to you. Noo. Yawk. No-ooo Yawwwk!”

OK, you’re ready. Get ready to tell it goodbye. All together now, let’s sing….

“Na na na na,

Na na na na,

Hey hey-ey,

Gooo-ood Byyyye.”

Once again, “Na na na na….”

Repeat until cured. You’re quite welcome.




All my life I’ve avoided funerals like they were catching. I never got much solace from them, and I didn’t think my absence disrespected the principal, the dead being rather indifferent on the subject.

I never realized the power of publicly contemplating a life well-lived until the lesson was forced on me by the death of an extraordinary woman.

It was a sunny Saturday last May; I drove out busy Geary St. to a funeral home in the Richmond. I was there to celebrate the life and mourn the passing of Barbara Griffith: founder, teacher, critic and cajoler of the Sunset Writer’s Group, my writer’s group for the past few years.

Barbara had the gift of attracting and inspiring people, as much by her presence as by her words. From the barrens of post-war Levittown to the artistic ferment of San Francisco she gathered acolytes in a long an useful life. I gladly counted myself among them.

Apparently I wasn’t the only one. The funeral hall was large and overflowing with mourners, almost all strangers to me; I felt very alone. Among the people I was introduced to, there was one who really got me feeling sorry for myself, a guy by the name of Joel, the best friend of Barbara’s son, Bill.

I’d never met Joel before, and yet it turned out that not only is he my 2-doors-down neighbor in Glen Park, but he also shares my last name.

Now, I will cop to being something of a hermit, but what kind of a life am I living when I can sleep 75 feet from another guy named Goldstein for seven years and never know it, never even (and take this, all you critics of the US Postal Service) get a piece of his mail by mistake? Has life in the big city become so isolating that we no longer bother to know one another anymore?

And whose fault is that? I never knocked on Joel’s door, never brought over a cold one, never even thought about it. Now here I am at the funeral of this great woman, surrounded by people who loved her, and I know virtually nobody in the room.

And yet … not quite nobody. There sits Jack, the retired hospital administrator from our group who is writing a novel about a wise-cracking merchant sailor coming of age in the post-war Philippines.

He is consoling our brilliant Penny, a legal secretary who hates her job, and who is writing a dark comedy about a woman who so hates her job she brains her boss with a plaster fish.

And next to her is Bob, our computer whiz who writes equally well about young gay men searching for love, and cats who play the piano. And Eleanor, our tiny, sardonic holocaust survivor who writes with such painful beauty that when she reads, we all hang on every heavily-accented word. And Jean, our Tenderloin security guard and comic playwright, who lives out of town and sleeps in her van when she works swing-shift so she can make our meetings. And beautiful, elegant Jo, our British-colonial expatriate, whose book on love and war in Rhodesia is so good she is already agented and on the road to publication.

I knew all these people because a magnet named Barbara Griffith had drawn us together, because a 79 year old woman had posted an Internet listing years before they became fashionable. I had a community because she took the trouble to make one. Now it was up to us to keep it alive.

When I left that dark room and stepped into the sun I was feeling better. And when I got to my car I beheld a minor miracle. Out on Geary the meter maids had done their worst. Every car on the block was flagged with a ticket. Every car but mine. My meter still showed 60 minutes, just like two hours ago.

A couple of weeks later I ran into my neighbor Joel. I was on my way to the first post-Barbara meeting of the Sunset Writer’s Group. It was another beautiful day and I had the top down. Goldstein spotted me as I backed out of my driveway.

“Hey Allan, where you heading?” he asked.

“I have a writing group meeting tonight.”

“That’s great,” he grinned, giving me the high sign. “You guys keep it up.”

What is Your Political Orientation?

What is Your Political Orientation?

What is Your Political Orientation?

The fundamental political difference between people is not liberal versus conservative, socialist versus capitalist, or any other worldview you can mention.

The two kinds of political orientation are those who care more about what happened than who did it, and those who care more about who did it than what happened.

We’ve learned to be suspicious of simplistic formulations that place human behaviors on two ends of a pole, like a magnet. People come in infinite shadings on any spectrum, like gay or straight. Most people fall somewhere in between.

But the poles are there, and real, nonetheless. Totally gay or completely straight aren’t absurdities, they define the antipodes of human sexual preference. They are the ends of a spectrum of sexuality.

A similar dialectic defines human political behavior. Let me coin a word here. The political equivalent of sexuality is politicality.

My politicality is more oriented to consequences than personalities, but I understand the other impulse.

Take free-trade Republicans who became Trump protectionists because they care more about Trump than free trade. Or the malleability of conservatives who viciously opposed Trump the candidate, the same super patriots who now are utterly indifferent to Russian meddling in American democracy because it reflects badly on Trump the president. It’s enough to produce tears, or tears of laughter, take your pick.

But there is a rational basis for believing in someone who may disagree with you about one thing, or even many things. The future is unknowable. When you put your faith and trust in an individual, what you’re saying is that you trust that person to hedge the future. You may identify with him or her, you may like their cutting rhetoric or the cut of their jib. Your attraction to them isn’t about position papers, it’s about who you think they are as people.

That politicality isn’t ridiculous. We are human, chemistry matters, and people fall in love, or hate, all the time. And once we do, we’re tenacious. We call that trait loyalty and, for a social species, loyalty is not to be despised.

But there is a price. Too much uncritical loyalty, too much caring about who’s doing it and not what they’re doing can be a dangerous thing. Lemmings come to mind. You never know what’s over that cliff. Lincoln’s promised land or Stalin’s gulag.

The other politicality is not an unalloyed virtue, either. A million people pulling in a million directions get nowhere. And leaderless revolutions always fail. From the whiskey rebellion to Occupy Wall Street, the lessons are clear. Much noise plus much energy plus zero leaders equals zero change. We’re the species that needs to put a face to it.

Seeing politics in this way makes it easier to understand, for instance, how religious conservatives excuse the sinful behavior of our president. For all his marriages and liaisons with porn stars, gutter language and devilish rhetoric, they’re all in with Trump. He tells them how great they are, and he doesn’t talk down to them like some snob on the coast.

And if he’s a sinner, well, so are we all. It doesn’t matter to them that good family man Barack Obama gave them health care and serial philanderer Trump wants to take it away. They don’t care what happens, they only care who did it. If Trump does it, it’s good, if Obama did it, it’s bad.

Democrats are as oblivious in the other direction. Rent by a thousand small issues, talking shop when people want to hear heart, the Democrats fail and fail again because they rarely can put an attractive face on their politics. The party of the people is the party with no personality.

The lesson here isn’t that one type of politicality is better than the other. It’s the recognition that both attitudes exist, and all people fall somewhere on the spectrum of caring more about who did it or caring more about what happened. I don’t think we’ve paid enough attention to that split. And I think politicality, and not liberal versus conservative, is the bleeding heart of our political dysfunction, the ultimate cause of gridlock.

What is your politicality? Do you care more about what happens or more about who did it? Look deep in your soul and figure it out. Then try to move, just a little, to the opposite pole. Somewhere in there are the right policies fronted by the right leaders. Without both, nothing happens. Nothing good, that is.