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165341)  Cigarette Smoking Man (The X-Files)

Strangely calm — maybe it was the Canadian accent — and occasionally vulnerable (seemingly) in later seasons, there was something compelling about this guy. We seem him as the top villain for Mulder, but then we see that he is just a part of the much bigger conspiracy. He’s the guy they go to for clean-up and it has cost him a normal human existence. His centric episodes are never dull. (Always wondered why he didn’t just take out Mulder, though.) He smokes not like a villain trying to intimidate someone, but like a man with all the time in the world, who isn’t even thinking about any of it.

2) Darth Vader (Star Wars)

Iconic, duh. Think of him in the first movie when he’s the terrifying cyborg, but is beneath Grand Moff Tarkin. And he has that strange commitment to this mysterious religion. We learn more about him. He blows up a whole planet. He can choke people with his hand. He is willing to get into a TIE Fighter and fight — albeit, not very well. And though people usually mock Mark Hamill’s acting when he discovers the terrifying truth about his parentage, well, think how you would feel. Look at Luke Skywalker’s reaction and realize, it’s serious, horrifying stuff to be the son of this man.

3) The Joker (The Dark Knight)

The late Heath Ledger really did deserve those accolades, regardless of their inevitability after his tragic death. Ledger plays the Joker in a transformative, uncomfortable, annoying (those fucking sounds he makes, aaaugh!) disturbing way. It’s such good acting that it’s fun to watch. He’s the best part of the movie, and is on my short list of highly praised things that are not remotely overrated. The greater meaning of the anarchic character isn’t important. Just fucking watch him act.

4) Cersei Lannister (Game of Thrones TV show)

Not the sadistic King Joffrey? Not the real power, Tywin Lannister? Nope. Give me Cersei, because we see her struggling to be a villain. She’s a woman, she’s maybe not as smart as she thinks she is, but she’s wily enough to fight hard for what she thinks is hers. She’s funny as hell. And she loves her scary-ass son, because he is just about all she has, but she knows he’s sick. She knows how women gain power, but she still yearns to be playing at the big kids table. You see her when her villainous swagger is on, and you see her being completely dismissed by her father and intellectually trailing behind her brother. She’s fascinating. And she has the world’s most flawless bitch face.

5) O’Brien (1984) and The Operative (Serenity)

Like all good top villains in a dystopia, O’Brien knows all the counter-arguments with which our hero has struggled. He knows them all and can beat them with authority, charm, conviction, and the terrifying certainty of his position. He inflicts the pain, and he is someone to whom Winston Smith can finally speak freely. He knows what he does and he does it because power exists to keep itself alive. No grand motives. Just keeping the system going.

The Operative sees even more clearly than O’Brien does that he does terrible things. But he thinks he is doing them to build something better. Yet, he also thinks there is no place in that world for people like him with so much innocent blood on their hands. He’s the mechanism for improvement at a terrible price, but he has no illusions about being warmly invited into into the new society. Strange character. Very human for a villain, but very frightening.

6) Angelus (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

God damn was he a better monster than a hero. Bland, self-hating (understandable, but still), earnest, when he had a soul, he was playfully sadistic without one. He tortured a woman into insanity, he toyed with a lovesick Giles (best character) after killing his ladyfriend. The contrast between that guy and the guy trying to do right makes even the dull fellow more interesting, just because we know what nastiness is inside of him.

What are some of your favorites, dear readers?

Photo by Lauren Pond/Washington Post

6.5) The Montana firefighter I heard of once who was named Charley Stillsmoking…

6) …who could ideally be combined with the story of another Montana firefighter  — the poor fellow was chased by a grizzly, he hid under a pile of logs, and the bear grabbed him and pulled him out by the legs. Mr. or Ms. Grizzly gave one slash with his mighty paw across the firefighter’s chest, then went on his way. This happened, by the way, right in the middle of his fighting a forest fire that endangered my family’s cabin. So thanks for braving those beasts, anyway. I’d like to reward you with a song if I knew how.

Actually, has anyone musically covered the tragedy of that Arizona hotshot crew yet? That could break some damn hearts. We may need to bring Johnny Cash back from the dead for this.

5) The story of the only pair of high heels I ever owned (less than two inches) — I bought them to go on Alyona’s Happy Hour. I wore them on RT probably three times and also to the White House Press Correspondent’s Dinner, then I accidentally left them the backseat of a 22-year-old jazz drummer’s car, a stranger who gave my friend and I a ride back to my home after we had drank whiskey sours with him, playing at being interesting older women who had done things like go to Russia (her) and develop opinions about Gene Krupa (me, those opinions being he was awesome and attractive).

There are an awful lot of songs about shoes, and I feel like those 40-dollar beauties who did so much in their short time on my feet are worthy of that honor.

4) Songs that namedrop other songs are usually terrible earnest, but — front row center at the Ryman Auditorium on New Year’s Eve, Matt Welch playing “Fourth of July” drunk (I’m sorry, it was a strange and memorable night, in spite of the bottle of wine), Bob and I singing Against Me! songs while driving through the backwoods of New Mexico on my first road trip, cousin T. and in our first moshpit together (La Plebe and Jello Biafra!), etc. Lots of possibilities in a life full of the perfect moments with songs.

Music on music can work with the proper amount of overly direct, earnest This Bike is a Pipe Bomb, Defiance Ohio, or Endless Mike and the Beagle Club spirit. (These songs need to be written by a scrappy, local level folk punk/rock band is what I am saying.)

3)

Or any American drug war songs — good try, Lindy, but you just don’t scan as well as you could. I love you to death, Steve Earle, but I want more than “Copperhead Road.”

Ballad of Cory Maye, anyway? Ryan Frederick? All too many cases choose from.

2) The woeful tale of my ancestor Anders Olson who was scalped by hungry, uprising Sioux in Minnesota in 1862. Poor Anders had taken the family to hide in a fort, so the story goes, but he went back to check on the livestock and that’s when they got him. I’m feeling an “El Paso” vibe from this one, at least lyrically. Going back when you shouldn’t and all that sort of thing.

1)  But most of all, give me a moving country tale of Pastor Randy Wolford — this guy — who died from a rattlesnake bite in West Virginia last year. Wolford was a snake handler, which is strange and stupid and fascinating enough without any deaths, but the detail that just kills in this case is that Wolford’s father had already died the same way — in front of him when the boy was just 15. Could be straight, sincere country, but something a little more subversive — that would include the foolishness, and the doomed quality of it all — would be better still. I’m looking at you, Critter Fuqua, Justin Townes Earle, Cary Ann Hearst, someone get on this.

When we think about anti-government songs, naturally the mind wanders to the punk and folk genres. And usually these songs are terrible. Three to four chords, awkwardly forced lyrics, musicianship that would make Simple Plan blush. Fortunately, there exists songs that not only rock, but also have a good ol’ fashioned anti-government message. Because these songs feature actual rock and roll played by actual musicians, hippies, indie kids, and punks should use caution when listening.

7. The Trees – Rush

PEART-INENT LYRICS: So the maples formed a union/And demanded equal rights/The oaks are just too greedy/We will make them give us light/Now there’s no more oak oppression/For they passed a noble law/And the trees are all kept equal/By hatchet, axe, and saw.

This prog-rock classic by Rush from their 1978 album Hemispheres is a searing attack on unions and forced equality. The use of oaks and maples makes the lyrics a little too cute, but the message is loud and clear.

6. Won’t Get Fooled Again – The Who

KEY PHRASE: There’s nothing in the streets, looks any different to me/And the slogans are replaced, by-the-bye/And the parting on the left is now parting on the right/And the beards have all grown longer overnight.

Won’t Get Fooled Again isn’t exactly a libertarian screed– Pete Townshend probably shares more in common with socialists than libertarians– but the lyrics definitely harken a world in which both the left and right fight for their own good and the people get the shaft. Every third party candidate should adopt this song as their own.

5. Bulls on Parade – Rage Against the Machine

KEY RAGING: Line up to the mind cemetery now/What we don’t know keeps the contracts alive an movin/’They don’t gotta burn the books they just remove ’em/While arms warehouses fill as quick as the cells

One of the hardest rocking songs ever written, and a dynamite screed against government. Rage Against the Machine may be awful, horrible left-wing nutjobs, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t common ground with libertarians. They hate the government, we hate the government. They hate the military industrial complex, we hate the military industrial complex. They hate capitalism, we hate… [END OF SIMILARITIES].

4. Symphony of Destruction – Megadeth

LORD ACTON-APPROVED LYRICS: You take a mortal man/And put him in control/Watch him become a god/Watch peoples heads a’roll

Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine may be insane, and he may not be a lyrical genius (see above,) but he can shred a mean guitar and he hates the government. The song itself rails against the corruptive power of power. Lord Acton would be proud.

3. Taxman – Beatles

THESE LYRICS APPROVED BY GROVER NORQUIST: If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street/If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat/If you get too cold, I’ll tax the heat/If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet

Not the subtlest lyrics ever written. But damn are they accurate.

2. Electric Eye – Judas Priest

NSA NON-APPROVED LYRICS: Up here in space/I’m looking down on you./My lasers trace/Everything you do./You think you’ve private lives/Think nothing of the kind./There is no true escape/I’m watching all the time./I’m made of metal/My circuits gleam./I am perpetual/I keep the country clean.

If there was ever a song to describe the past few months, this would be it. Priest may have written the song in 1982 as an homage to George Orwell’s 1984, but it holds even more meaning in today’s ever-expanding surveillance state. It’s easy to imagine the analysts at the NSA cranking this over their loudspeakers as they record your personal conversations. “Electric Eye” was so prescient it was even noticed by Stephen Kinsella at Lew Rockwell.com.

1. Cult of Personality – Living Colour

BLINDLY FOLLOW THESE LYRICS: I sell the things you need to be/I’m the smiling face on your TV/I’m the cult of personality/I exploit you, still you love me/I tell you one and one makes three/I’m the cult of personality/Like Joseph Stalin and Gandhi/I’m the cult of personality

According to Wikipedia, “Cult of personality” refers to “an idealized, heroic, and, at times god-like public image, often through unquestioning flattery and praise.” If there was ever a song to describe the past 5 years… “Cult of Personality” isn’t just one of the best songs ever written, it’s also informative and educational! Living Colour name drops Stalin, Kennedy, Gandhi, and Mussolini, and includes a snippet of FDR reciting his famous “nothing to fear but fear itself” speech. A killer riff, history, one of the great guitar solos of all time, a thoughtful examination of the dangers of hero worship and a complicit media; this song has it all.

1000992_10100888966231447_827789867_n1) Every knee-jerk patriot who so loves his loyalty to flag and country is celebrating treason right now. Yes, treason.

2) The Declaration of Independence is a dynamite piece of work, it really is.

3) Bill Pullman’s presidential speech before the final battle in Independence Day. Tell me he doesn’t give his all.

4) The X version of “Fourth of July”, which I played on my radio show yesterday afternoon. It’s such a gut-wrencher in many different ways. What a ridiculously great song. In order of quality of versions it goes 1) X 2) Drunk Matt Welch 3) Dave Alvin, for what that’s worth.

5) Maybe the bad-ass words of the Founders have melted into offensive hypocrisy, perhaps they did right away (or by the time John Adams rolled into office with his Sedition Act shenanigans), but again, that Deceleration is a kick-ass “fuck you” to people getting involved your business of living.

Hell, the World War I Christmas Truce failed, but I still think about and toast it every December 24. Maybe I could celebrate, if nothing else, the sheer audacity of people throwing off their King and saying, nah, we can do better. Henry David Thoreau wasn’t the perfect American woodsman, but his Civil Disobedience does the poetry of liberty better than anything. There’s a place for the pretty words of even the Founders. They knew. They knew so well the dangers of government tyranny and they still were all awful presidents — thereby proving their warnings that it’s the power that’s the problem.

6) Yes, six. I think under my libertarian anarchism there is some stupid, poetic core that wants America to be what its reputation says it is. You know, that wacky, anti-collectivist nation. The world’s cool Bohemian cousin who is kind of scary, but captivating. The life of the party. Can you imagine if we really were the bad-ass, individualist, cranky, cool nation of only Lysander Spooners and Rose Wilder Lanes? Who kept to ourselves, but always left the front door open to immigrants?

That’d be nice.

The fact that I have a lingering disappointment in America always surprises me. We’ve got such great geography, history, folklore, culture. We could have been a contender…We could have been the America that conservatives tell themselves that we always were and are and forever will be. (But better, cause we’d also have Mexicans and gay people.)

And now my patriotism for the year is done. Because again I’m wondering and worrying over where America’s trimmings of liberty are what keeps people from realizing how bad it is, and how much worse it can get. We have the amendments, we have that wonderful document of (mostly) negative liberties (God, what an awesome idea), and then we have a million tiny chips in each one. The Fourth is in particularly bad shape, but since it’s still there in law, are we going to notice if it becomes utterly meaningless, like my friend Bob’s sandals that were eventually held together only with duct tape?

Is it ever going to feel like a people in the street, this time it’s serious, this time we make a stand moment in a nation devoted to pretty words about being the freest place in the world? Are we just lulling ourselves to sleep by repeating what we were supposed to be as a country? What kind of shield is a piece of paper, anyway?

My Grandma keeps on suggesting that I read the newspaper funnies, so I must remind myself that not all comics are terrible. Please wince as I recklessly call graphic novels comics, but nobody who loved Calvin and Hobbes and Foxtrot as much as I did as a child could every consider “comic” a pejorative, so don’t even worry about it.

In website form:

Mitch Clem: maker of Nothing Nice to Say and My Stupid Life, the latter of which I have read through more times than I can count. Occasionally I worry over him, when he draws something too real. Often he just writes ska-pickle jokes, or jokes about stupid, loitering punks. Sometimes I don’t get the punk rock specific joke, unless it is making fun of Against Me! or Tim Armstrong. Clem helped me learn about the existence of the edited for TV Big Lebowski. Plus, this is hilarious.

Bonus: Clem’s fiance Nation of Amanda, who watercolors his comics and just seems amazing in internetland and as a character in “My Stupid Life.” I just want them to be punk and artistic and happy together forever and ever.

Kate Beaton: How much do I love Kate Beaton’s Hark, a vagrant series? Almost enough to look up Canadian history references. Almost. She’s feminist, she’s funny, she is a giant nerd for history, a love which she mixes weirdly with pop culture and literary references and jokes about Canadian politeness. Her art is awesome, with a deceptively simple, Quentin Blake-esque style. Plus, she made the greatest mocking of/tribute to the Kennedys since that time Garrett Quinn wouldn’t stop doing a Ted Kennedy impression on the way to LPAC. Also, she invented “I had fun once, it was awful,” so fuck you, Grumpy Cat.

In book form:

Anders Nilsen’s Dogs and Water — I once read it when I was really depressed, and it didn’t help, but I still got pleasingly lost in the troubling, spare  mysterious world of this comic. Something has happened — or is happening — and a lone individual, plus a teddy bear, is wandering a barren, post-war, post-apocalypse landscape.

Tintin — particularly Tintin in Tibet, The Blue Lotus, The Crab with the Golden Claws, basically anything with a lot of opium in the subplot, and at least some minority characters portrayed as heroic, not just as racist as fuck-all stereotypes (Japanese people, holy shit, Herge. You should have met some real ones). I read these books when I was little. They’re racist, violent, make light of alcoholism, and opium smuggling is a subplot in what seems like every other book. They’re also beautifully drawn, funny, and the adventures within each volume’s 62 pages inspired half the games I played as a kid (stuffed animals always had to jump/fall down a waterfall, ideally after being chased by someone gun-toting). And 1) Yes, Tintin was a journalist who never wrote a story and that was bizarre. And 2) Tintin in the Land of the Soviets sucks, but it does have a reference to Soviets taking wheat from Kulaks and letting them starve. I mean, Herge got it before The New York Times did, that’s all.  And 3) No, I didn’t watch the movie, and I just don’t want to.

Guy Delisle’s work, mainlyPyongyang: a Journey in North Korea. That is the book that got me fascinated with that world’s most fucked up nation. Delisle has more of that simple style I love. The French Canadian draws himself as big-nosed and quizzical  the backgrounds in simple black and white, sometimes with pale greens or tan. But nearly all of the most fascinating details of North Korea, from the hideous food, to the fact that Pyongyang is almost dark at night, I first got from Delisle. He’s a great person to travel with in comic form — the drawings are a bit childish, but the grim point of North Korea comes across all too effectively. 

Jeff Lemire: Beaton is the Canadian comic artists to make you happy, Lemire is the one who will just make you weep, but then feel kind of good, but still lonely, but lonely in a beautiful kind of way. Ugh. His Essex County is just wonderful. I need to read all of Sweet Tooth.

Also read: Joe Sacco’s Safe Area Gorazde, for real comics reporting on the Bosnian war, and Peter Bagge’s compilation of reason comic: Everyone  Is Stupid Except for Me. 

And a special shout-out to the first comic I ever bought: Batman vs. Tarzan. It’s true.

Besides this comic book about The Carter Family (I love a world where that exists) which I intend to read on the train home from California, what should I be reading that I did not include here?

Barack Obama sadOn the occasion of some heroic individual leaking the Department of Justice white paper on the legality of drone strikes, here are some good links. Read them and  try to guess the chances of your getting assassinated by a flying death-robot in the next few months or years.