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Hating the Hitch or: How I Learnt to Get Over My Inadequacies and Love the Hitch

Christoper Hitchens’ crusade wasn’t one against Christianity or Islam or Judaism. It was a life-long campaign to obliterate the human impulse towards faith, towards assertion made without evidence.

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In his article “Christopher Hitchens: Party Pooper,” Gavin McInnes asked why “a mammoth intellectual such as Christopher Hitchens [is] wasting his last days wrestling a straw man such as Jesus?” He suggested that since most Middle Americans only go to church for a sense of community and tradition, without giving mind to any of the spiritual and pseudo-scientific claims of Christianity, that Hitchens’ futile crusade is “tantamount to shoving a world map into a kid’s face and saying, ‘There is no way in hell Santa could do all that!’”

McInnes’ view is not only reductive, it misses the point entirely.

“I understand if he’s condemning Islam’s misogyny or mocking our love of Israel,” he wrote, “and I get that the Catholic Church is literally a pain in the ass (at least for some altar boys), but the rest of America’s Christians, all 171 million of them, are only in it for the platitudes.” But it is while the platitudes are spat from the pulpit that religion, and more importantly faith, become ingrained in our consciousness and in the consciousness of the next generation.

Hitchens’ desire was never to assert his intellectual dominance over the Bible Belt. It wasn’t a matter of revealing that the magician has a secret compartment in his top hat. Instead, his ambition was far more humanitarian. He was concerned about the psychic well-being of the human race. It was the will to religion that was the problem. And in the absence of will, it was tolerance that was cause for worry.

Hitch’s crusade wasn’t one against Christianity or Islam or Judaism. It was a life-long campaign to obliterate the human impulse towards faith, towards assertion made without evidence. He sought to instil reason and thought in places bereft of such things. It was this religious inclination, Hitch understood, that was the root of all tyranny.

An excerpt from his obituary in The Guardian read, “His loathing of tyranny was consistent: unlike many of the 1960s generation, he never harboured illusions about Mao or Castro. His concerns grew about the left’s selective tolerance for totalitarian regimes.” And he asserted as such in multiple debates whenever an opponent offered the vintage argument that secular regimes were responsible for atrocities of equal enormity to the Church. Mao, Stalin, Hitler, Kim and their heinous ilk were made into Gods. To them, secularism was eliminating the competition.

This absence of reason, Hitchens knew, was madness. As his hero George Orwell wrote: “If human equality is to be forever averted—if the High, as we have called them, are to keep their places permanently—then the prevailing mental condition must be controlled insanity.” The only antidote to this insanity was reasoned thought. So as Gore Vidal taught Americans their own history, Hitch set out to teach humanity how to use the skill that is said to separate it from the animal kingdom.

Instead of telling us what to think, he taught us to how to think. He implored us to do so in our every day lives. He did this by chronicling everything he experienced in elegiac, seamless prose that made the reader feel as though they were in dialogue with him.

His intellectual pedigree was unmatched. His powers of articulation and prescience were heroic. Ian McEwan once said of his friend Hitch’s awesome memory “It all seemed neurologically available, everything he’s ever read, everyone he’s ever met, every story he’s ever heard.”

Bloody. Hell.

I mean, how do you compete with that?

Having the Hitch as a hero and role model can be a dispiriting enterprise. You will simply never measure up, to any considerable degree, against the staggering intellectual yardstick that the Hitch had firmly planted in the earth. It was foolish, even hubristic, to try.

How do you undertake the already mentally-taxing role of writer or journalist without being wrought with anxiety over the knowledge that no matter how much you know, you will never know as much as Christopher Hitchens?

YouTube has become the quintessential repository for Hitchism. There, you can watch countless videos of him lecturing and answering questions on an endless array of topics, delivering his infamous “Hitchslaps.” Whatever the topic, he had a calculated and erudite opinion. Whatever the country, he’d been there. Whatever the event, book, person, or concept, he was familiar with it. He’d covered it. He’d read it. He’d met them. He’d mastered it.

I reiterate: bloody hell.

But, I’ve come to realise that in my inadequacy, it is I who is being reductive and entirely missing the point. “The essence of the independent mind lies not in what it thinks, but in how it thinks.” You see, it is enough to think.

Hitchens opened his book “Letters to a Young Contrarian” by expressing disappointment in the English language’s rather lacking ability to encapsulate a person who thinks in a way that is other. “It is a strange thing, but it remains true that our language contains no proper word for your aspiration.” Contrarian, however, is just fine.

When a claim is made, contradiction can and should be a natural response. It should be instinct to immediately refute anything that is said, particularly when it comes from a place of authority. However true it may be, the alternative must immediately be considered. It is this very simple act of contradiction that governments try desperately to bludgeon to death in places like North Korea.

Whatever it is you have to say, I will immediately disagree, because I can, because I must. Then I will demand to see evidence. I will sit happily and listen to your reasoning and only when I am satisfied will I abide your assertion. But first I will disagree, for if I don’t, I may forget how to. “If you care about the points of agreement and civility, then, you had better be well equipped with points of argument and combativity, because if you are not then the “centre” will be occupied and defined without your having helped to decide it.”

In a secondary school philosophy class, the teacher once tasked us with maintaining consciousness during a lengthy video on the life of Jean-Paul Sartre. At one point, about three or four hours in, the narrator explained the impact of Sartre’s death on the French public: “People could no longer ask, what does Sartre think of this?” This stayed with me for some time. It was a month after the Hitch’s death, when the EU imposed their oil embargo against Iran, that I understood fully the unique sense of loss that the narrator was trying to articulate.

It’s obvious to say, but we will never know what the Hitch thinks of the US sequester, of the role of Jabhat al-Nusra in the Syrian civil war or of Obama’s current trip to Israel. Of course, we have a pretty good idea of what he would think. But we won’t get to hear it dispatched from the man himself.

So instead what we ought to do is simply follow his example. Take his rabid pursuit of the truth and fidelity to his own ideals and apply them to our own lives and our own careers, in whatever capacity we are able. It is truly a formula for a better world. Hitch knew this. Take nothing on face value and question everything, even the Hitch. He too was sometimes full of shit.

There is a saying that goes “Whatever you want to say, the Hitch has already said it better.” Thus, I will end with another quote from the man himself, in which he makes his declaration on how to be his favourite kind of person, a thinking person: “Beware the irrational, however seductive. Shun the ‘transcendent’ and all who invite you to subordinate or annihilate yourself. Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others. Don’t be afraid to be thought arrogant or selfish. Picture all experts as if they were mammals. Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence. Suspect your own motives, and all excuses. Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you.”

Music

The Beauty and Journey of Hellions’ 20s Series

Australian alternative band Hellions have written a series of songs that journals the band’s history and growth. Josh Hockey explores.

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Australian based Hellions are an alternative heavy band that have taken their audience on a journey of evolution. They have taken their sound from brutal hardcore to an atmospheric theatrical production unlike anything else. Over the years their music has matured and developed as they have as people into something special. 

Hellions have established countless themes through their music since their 2014 debut album, Die Young. The prominent example of this is the series of “20” based songs that appear on each of their albums. “22”, “23”, “24”, “25”, and “26”, are all songs the band write to keep track of themselves. Through the lyrics of these songs, they explore where their lives are at that point in time, and touch on their current values and beliefs in a powerfully emotional way. While each tie in with another, each one is unique and has its own meaning. They have become some of the most highly anticipated tracks of every Hellions release. 

(L-R): The Hellions discography- Die Young, Indian Summer, Opera Oblivia, Rue

22

This all began back in 2014 when Die Young released featuring the closing track “22”. The song takes you on a passionate journey through the exploration of youth. The freedom of youth is often underutilized, and the innocence and joy of being young can all go to waste. Worrying too much about silly issues or stupid mistakes drag you down, and you lose the passion for life that was once the only thing keeping you going. This is what “22” is about. It is preaching to you to be everything you want to be. It is telling you to break out from the norms. It is telling you to make the most of the time you have. If you take the leap you’ll fly, and this song makes you feel like you can.

An empowering chorus asks the bitter question of “why should we squander ever-waning youth”. The fast verses build perfectly and work to mesmerize you into a feeling of inspiration and freedom. This all leads up to, and hits its peak, with the final verse. “We are the wild ones, forever free, forever young!” A warcry of the aforementioned emotions, this section of music is as effective as anything I’ve heard. Every time I listen, it fills me with adrenaline and puts a smile on my face. Passion and joy fill the vocals and sends a shiver down your spine as the raw-strength of this closing verse hits you at your core. 

The message that “22” sends out is important, and the way it does is breathtaking. “22” shows the array of emotions they were experiencing at that time in their lives, and adds an optimistic edge to everything else they touched on during the album. Looking on the bright side, at this stage, the entire world felt like it was at their feet, and was theirs to explore. They’re determined to fight off mediocrity and are desperately trying to maintain their freedom.

23

“23” was the closing track of Hellions’ 2015 album Indian Summer. Tying back in with “22”, it speaks of releasing oneself from the rut of mundanity. They dealt with the ditches of mediocrity and conformity and despised it more than anything. “23” explains the inner monologue behind dealing with these issues and takes you through their mental journey to regain their freedom. 

Opening up with an erratic rhythm of guitars and drums, and leading into frantic structured verses, “23” is an intense listening experience. Lyrically it walks us through the process of self-discovery. The world cannot hold you back, and you embrace the freedom that comes with realization. Liberated and elated, you reject the conformity of the wooden world. “Brother can’t you hear the inexorable sound? The march of time drawing close.” The walls of the world are closing in and “23” wants to inspire you to get away. 

Hellions want you to be the wild ones that they referred to in “22”. An enormous build and phenomenal riff-filled instrumental and vocal release references “22” and shows how they have changed since then. “These contemporary lies are no longer bothering me, I’ll never squander ever-waning youth, the bullshit doesn’t matter because you’ve always got you.” Much more certain of themselves now, they are grabbing their dreams with both hands and running with them. It isn’t the time for talking, it is the time for acting. 

There is a sensation of empowerment as the certainty and assuredness hammer home the power of “23”. It has its peaks and lows and appears to be fully designed this way. It wants to take you on this journey with them, and it does so in a beautifully powerful way that ends Indian Summer on an incredibly high note. 

24

Opening up as the first track on the 2016 album Opera Oblivia, “24” kicks in by referencing “22”. “Breathe, be still, be free” are the opening words of “22”, and is representative of the process of reminiscing. Moving on lyrically they speak of getting bogged down in the judgment of others, and how this brought them waves upon waves of embarrassment and discomfort.

Instrumentally “24” takes a heavily theatrical approach, and involves a conscious effort to make everything sound dramatically bigger. This musical dramatization works fluently, with every note feeling like it is exactly where it needs to be in order to create an uplifting anthem.

Finding out who you are is integral, and although it may cause some social discomfort, Hellions want you to discover yourself. “We are born and raised as cattle to be the same, but we are not the same we have to change and if we don’t we’ll suffocate.” This chorus features the strong clean vocals as well as the passionate yells and adds to the emotional effectiveness. “24” begs you to help change the world. Referencing “23”, they ask their mother and father for forgiveness and express their fear of time closing in. This slides nicely into the final anthemic singalong of the chorus and ends “24” with the bringing together of people. Feeling like an enormous group hug, multiple voices come together to serenade you through the chorus as the song comes to a close. An incredibly strong way to open an album and a fine addition to the series, “24” was the indicator that Opera Oblivia was going to be something special. 

25

“25” is the closing track on Opera Oblivia, and is a message about the importance of valuing the past as much as the present. It also touches on reclaiming oneself, the beauty of art, love, and having a passion. It is the most diverse of the “20” songs as it touches on so many things, but it does this in a way that isn’t messy. Every word feels like it belongs, as does every instrumental note, and it is clear the amount of love that went into crafting this song. 

Why spend so much time regarding the work of others and drawing from it when everyone could be making their own inspiration? “25” takes on a form of self-dialogue as well as everything else as they empower themselves with the idea of continuing their freedom. “And as long as we sing, we can stay young like this.” They acknowledge their inspirations and their creations and examine the fact that they are living out their childhood dreams every single day. The reason that they are living these dreams is because of those inspirations, and that is why we need to cherish every single piece of art that means something to us. You have no idea just how much it could end up meaning in the future. 

Reinvent the world, like we used to: screaming.” Take the initiative to make whatever change you want to see in the world. Nothing is stopping you. Years can pass and things can change, but if you create something that means something to you, or to other people, it will be immortal. Like Lennon, Cash, Sinatra, Morrison, or Jackson, anything you create will maintain its beauty until the end of time. “25” is Hellions taking pride in their own art, as well as acknowledging the great musicians, poets, and artists before them that inspired them. As time slips away from them and they feel like they are losing grip on their youth, they know deep down that they will always have their art, and they will have the undying love and passion for it that will keep them forever young. All of this passion, inspiration, and integrity, comes from love. The love for art and the love for creating, as well as the love for the world. They want to help fix it, and “25” is asking for your help.

26

“26” is the closing track of Hellions’ 2018 album, Rue. It is a good indicator of how far they have come. It is more polished and theatrical, and thus makes it a perfect album closer.

Suggesting a series of battles against mental health and one’s inner demons, “26” deals with what holds people back when dealing with such troubles. They work themselves half to death to numb the pain, and when they finally take a second to rest the demons come for them. They run and run, and the next thing they know the world has passed them by. People they relied upon are getting on fine without them, the world continues to move without them in it, and that feeling of isolation only makes things worse. Happiness is an impossibility when the idea of suicide is constantly in the back of their minds, reminding them that they always have that escape plan if they need it. 

Maybe we’re dredging up the discontent we’ve held subconsciously, accumulation of the pain we’re not acknowledging. But my dear friend we’ll survive.” Things may be hard at times but there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. This anchor dragging you forever down needs to be cut loose. Hellions are saying it is time to revolt against the inner demons. They don’t want to become another product of an unrelenting mental disease, and “26” takes you through their pain, their anguish, their suffering, and their rise out of that rut.

We may be plagued by a glitchy condition but your voice isn’t forbidden, speak up”. One of the more powerful messages sent through Hellions songs. They don’t want you to waste your freedom, and on that charge through to the end of the song with soft instrumentals that remind you that it will all be okay. “26” is one of the more heart-wrenching additions to the series, and closes out Rue in a painfully beautiful way. The lyrics and instrumentals work together in a poetic and vulnerable fashion that makes it all the more effective and admirable.

The 20s Series takes you on a journey and is an indicator of the mental and emotional journey Hellions have gone on together over the years as a band. From the inspirational uplifting “22” to the daunting and vulnerable “26”, they have expanded themselves musically and personally in every way possible. These 5 songs are just the surface of Hellions near flawless discography, but picking them out and exploring them on their own merits has been an experience that I have loved. My admiration for this band is unmatched by almost any other act, and I think their music is something that needs to be experienced to be believed. Having listened to this band since their debut release in 2013, it has been an honor seeing them expand their sound. More recently I attended their Rue album tour at Max Watt’s in Melbourne. There was a special feeling throughout their entire set, and as the deafening singalongs were a constant throughout, it hammered home just how much this band means to people. The 20s Series documents the highs and lows of what they have gone through, and builds up the Hellions that we see today.

You can purchase Hellions’ discography from Bandcamp or from UNFD.

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Music

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Once more on vinyl

The Buffy the Vampire Slayer musical episode, ‘Once More With Feeling’, comes to vinyl. We take the record for a spin.

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The acclaimed genre-bending series Buffy the Vampire Slayer pushed a whole lot of boundaries — but few were as wild as the 2001 musical episode “Once More With Feeling.” It was one of the first modern TV musicals (a trend that’s only gotten more popular in recent years) and an insanely ambitious proposition.

Series creator Joss Whedon (who would go on to direct the first Avengers film to universal acclaim) wrote and directed the Season 6 episode, which featured all original tunes that were not only catchy and creative in their own right — but also integral in moving the plot of the episode, the season, and even the series forward with some momentous reveals hidden amongst those show tune lines. He also scored a surprisingly great musical performance from the show’s actual cast, as opposed to simply dubbing in professional musicians.

The episode’s soundtrack received a CD release back in the day and drifted into geeky cult icon status for the past decade and a half. But, Buffy’s iconic musical is getting a new shot at primetime all these years later thanks to niche distributor Mondo. The company puts out everything from special edition posters to soundtracks, and its latest offering is a high-end take on “Once More With Feeling.” The pressing is on 180-gram vinyl and comes on blue splatter vinyl as well as a red variant. Like most Mondo releases, it features some gorgeous cover art, as well as in the gatefold, and even a geeky bonus for old school fans. Original creator Joss Whedon has written up some all-new liner notes to go along with the release (complete in its very own “Slaybill”), giving fans a bit more insight into the beloved episode.

Though the appeal here is obviously meant for Buffy fans, it’s worth noting there are some great songs on this album. Whedon is a proven songwriter and would go on to pen the award-winning web series musical Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog. He showcased those skills in spades here, with a line-up that spans everything from rock ’n roll to ballads. “Under Your Spell” is a slow, foreboding track about love. “Rest In Peace” is a snarky punk rock number loaded with Buffy-centric gags. There’s “Standing,” a ballad about growing up and moving on in life; and the full cast closer “Where Do We Go From Here?” a sweeping tune that set the stage for the remaining run of the series. Then, there are the clever gag tunes, such as the medley “I’ve Got a Theory / Bunnies / If We’re Together,” and the short tunes such as “The Parking Ticket” and “The Mustard.”

Buffy was a low-key hit when it debuted, and the show has only grown in popularity and acclaim in the years since. Along with being an excellent album all its own, “Once More With Feeling” now lives and breathes as a pop culture artifact of a creative force who would go on to make a couple of the biggest movies (Avengers, Age of Ultron) and most beloved TV shows (Firefly) of the modern era. It’s also one of the boldest episodes of network television ever put to the airwaves, and yes, that still holds true to this day. If you’re a Buffy fan from way back, a new fan who found the series on streaming, or just a curious collector who digs on colored vinyl sets — “Once More With Feeling” deserves a spot on any shelf, regardless of what leads you to pick it up.

Buffy on red vinyl

Pre-order a copy of Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Once More With Feeling on vinyl from Mondo.

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