By Robert Cormack
To be mad and desirous of everything, to never yawn or say a commonplace thing.
“Some people never go crazy. What truly horrible lives they must live.” Charles Bukowski
We probably all grew up thinking crazy was a bad thing. Remember our parents saying “If you masturbate, you’ll go crazy”? It didn’t stop us, obviously, but the threat was considerable. Kids who weren’t told they’d go crazy masturbating are probably still living at home.
The rest of us shaped up, kept our masturbating to a minimum, and eventually entered society as normal, sane adults. We took jobs, had families, paid our mortgages, did everything we were supposed to do. It would be years before we realized we should have done a lot more masturbating — and been a lot more crazy.
Then again, we’d probably still have them around if they’d shagged more often.
Seniors are always asked “What would you have done differently?” The majority say they wished they’d had more fun. “I should have jumped on a tramp steamer,” one old man confessed. “Hell, I’ve lived a boring life.”
An elderly couple explained their 70-year marriage. “He always wants sex,” the women laughed, admitting she was no slouch, either. “Here’s what I want on my gravestone,” she added. “There goes the sex.”
It’s hard not to love a couple like that. If they were our grandparents, we might think differently. Then again, we’d probably still have them around if they’d shagged more often.
“You take your life in your hands,” he said, although nobody’s actually been killed or maimed by spit. It just grosses you out.
If Charles Bukowski’s novels were half as autobiographical as he claimed, he had a lot of fun being crazy. His campus readings got so out of hand, he was throwing bottles of beer to the audience. Universities today would have had him banned but, back then, Bukowski had a strong following.
Nobody was saying “that man’s offensive,” even though he was. Alan Dershowitz, on the other hand, complained about being spit on after speaking engagements at universities. “You take your life in your hands,” he said, although nobody’s actually been killed or maimed by spit. It just grosses you out.
Now, Dershowitz is as solid as they come. Bukowski, on the other hand, was as crazy as they come. Maybe that says something about our tolerance levels and who we spit on. We’re choosey spitters.
A growing number of student councils make it their personal cause to keep “the crazies” off their speaker lists. They claim they’re earnestly working to “raise awareness about the damaging effect of bigoted words, jokes and theme parties.”
A few even ask comedians to have their jokes typed out in advance. Bukowski would have burned down the school. Fortunately — or unfortunately — he’s dead.
Part of humor is learning to take things in stride. Without that, you’ve got students spitting at Alan Dershowitz.
John Cleese stopped doing university gigs, saying they’re “too politically correct for humor.” Jerry Seinfeld avoids them, too. So does Chris Rock.
That’s a shame. The day universities lose comedians is the day they lose humor. Remember when Harvard introduced ethics courses because graduates were displaying the ethics of common ground snakes? Part of humor is learning to take things in stride. Without that, you’ve got students spitting on Alan Dershowitz. Intolerance builds up a lot of saliva.
Imagine Bukowski going on stage today, saying, “The female is skilled at betrayal and torture and damnation.” Hell, President Jimmy Carter couldn’t get away with “I’ve only sinned in my mind.”
If anything, it’s the crazies who keep us sane. No doubt Dick Gregory, Mort Sahl and Lenny Bruce were considered crazy. Who else spoke so openly about racism and bigotry? Imagine Gregory telling his joke now about a waitress saying to him, “Sorry, we don’t serve blacks,” and Gregory replying, “That’s okay, I don’t eat blacks. Bring me a whole chicken.”
Bukowski once said he only liked writers who “screamed when they burned.” Very few writers today scream or burn. This is the age of gentle neutrality. What counts these days is what people agree with. You can swear to some degree or even hurl a few insults, but audiences know the power they hold.
Flip Wilson once did a sketch with Stevie Wonder, where he says, “You see what I’m saying, don’t you Stevie?” When Stevie nodded, Wilson said to the audience, “Well, if Stevie saw it, the rest of you must have.”
Today, that would have every civil liberties advocate screaming for justice, and student bodies spitting like camels.
As advanced as we think we are, we’ve regressed. As John Cleese noted, “Students are taking themselves way too seriously.”
When asked if Monte Python would be accepted today, he said, “I doubt it very much. It took years before people realized we were only acting crazy to prove a point. There was an element of truth in everything we did.”
Newspapers are simply there to remind us what can happen if we blink.
Yet even when Monty Python was successful, Terry Gilliam still had to save the original tapes from being erased by the BBC. They needed tapes. Monty Python was expedient. When humor and craziness become expedient, it isn’t long before you’ve got whole societies spitting like camels.
We complain today about news services no longer being unbiased. It could be argued that they never have been. H.L. Mencken made an interesting point, saying that “A newspaper is a device for making the ignorant more ignorant and the crazy crazier.” That’s probably true. Newspapers are simply there to remind us what can happen if we blink.
The difference between crazy and ignorant is that ignorance is learned. We become ignorant through indolence. Crazy, on the other hand, is often misinterpreted. What we think is crazy might be the next greatest invention.
Keeping out the crazies doesn’t purify an institution or the individuals expecting to making their way in the world.
Elon Musk was considered crazy with Tesla. Now it’s the second largest electric carmaker in the world. Genius will out. Popularity seems to be the dividing line between crazy and genius. Invent something people need and they don’t want to lock you up anymore. They give you speaking engagements instead.
Jack Kerouac once said “The only people for me are the mad ones…the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing…” This should be a lesson to everyone, especially the student councils wanting their universities to stay free of “bigoted words, jokes and theme parties.”
Keeping out the crazies doesn’t purify an institution or the individuals expecting to make their way in the world. Without the mad ones, the damned and the weird, we’re left with politicians, brokers and the occasional evangelist.
Better to have the ones “who scream when they burn.” At least we know something’s living under the skin. That’s not always apparent with the normal ones, the ones who always yawn and say commonplace things.
Those are the ones we should really worry about.