There is a popular expression — among the sort of unimaginative types who continually recycle "witticisms" until any acuity they may once have had has long been worn away — about opinions and their relationship to a certain anatomical aperture located abaft and roughly amidships on the human body, stated thusly:
“Opinions are like assholes; everybody has one.”
Presumably, this is meant to convey to the stator of an opinion the superfluity of his contribution, opinions being as widely distributed as bungholes and equally as unsuited to polite conversation, the subtext being that you in fact are an asshole, in the figurative sense, for offering your opinion. I disagree. I personally have more opinions than Carter's got pills and only one prison pocket, and I presume that's the case with most of humanity. Having only one opinion would severely curtail one's utility as a conversationalist and give the impression of mental unsoundness. If your one opinion is, say, that the Dutch are an inherently sneaky people, your usefulness begins and ends with discussions of those low-lying freethinkers. You may be able to slip your opinion in without undue alarm in talk of Edam cheese or tulips, but that's a stretch and if you attempt to weigh in on global warming or the death penalty, you're going to look like an idiot. A more apt comparison might be: Opinions are like hairs. Everyone has a head full of them and they tend to fall out as you age, but that doesn't really have the pithiness and punch of the original, does it?
Actually, what most people consider "their" opinions are in fact other people's, gleaned like fallen beans from the fertile fields of original thinkers. In large part, only views directly associated with somatic sensory experience can be trusted as stemming wholly from the opiner. Say "I think that ice cream is delicious," or, "I find getting poked with sharp things to be unpleasant," and I will believe you've arrived at those opinions through a process of experiential assessment; say "I think that Mahler's Fifth is turgid and bombastic," or, "I find reading William Gaddis to be an enjoyable experience," and nine times out of ten, I'll swear the heavy lifting was done by someone else and you, hearing or reading it somewhere, thought it sounded sensible and adopted it as your own. As did the person he got it from, and so on and so on... There may be some highly opinionated person holed up in an abandoned grain silo somewhere with a computer cranking out viewpoints form which we all derive our opinions. But…
I'm not exempting myself, certainly; only as I've gotten older have I taken the time to assess my opinions and wonder if in fact I truly feel what I think I feel. For instance: at one time I subscribed to the widely held opinion that Robert DeNiro is a great actor. I did not always believe this; as an adolescent and young adult I thought him an overrated one-note instrument, but then I had a relationship with a film student who informed me I was wrong. Her education and sophistication convinced me of the validity of her opinion weighed against my own untutored assessment, and for years I vigorously shook the pom-poms for Bobby D. Only much later in life was I able to recapture the sense I'd had as a youth and recognize him for the mercenary hack that he is. Robert DeNiro is — in my thoughtfully considered, meticulously curated, independently arrived-at opinion — a marginally talented b-hole with a sackful of rote mannerisms and expressions he trots out as predictably as the garbage films he appears in every year.
Incidentally, the b-hole part has nothing to do with his talent of lack of it; the two qualities can independently coexist without one affecting the other. There are any number of brilliant assholes whose work I respect and admire. No, DeNiro is an asshole for supporting and defending Elia Kazan and other craven, backstabbing pustules who named names during the communist witch hunts of the McCarthy era. That makes him objectively an asshole independent of opinion. My opinion of his talent and body of work is just that, my subjective view which, though right, you are free to disagree with and float your own misguided theories. It's a free country.
There is a place well-known for its free exchange of ideas and opinions, a place where differing views are aired and debated with passion and fervor. I speak not of the university classroom or literary salon, nor the agorae or symposia of antiquity, but the bar. In the bar, where alcohol frees the inner man, lubricates his tongue, and quiets his fears ( powerful stuff, that), opinions are propounded with passion, declaimed against with verve and vigor, and ofttimes resolved with fisticuffs, edged weapons, and small arms. That's how we do up here in the U. S. of A. You, sir, are free to voice any opinion you like — it's guaranteed in the Constitution, as is my right to shoot you for it. Maybe not explicitly, but I believe implicit in the Second Amendment is the right to bear arms against fools.
So one night I find myself in the bar, specifically the Welcome Inn, with a co-worker young enough to be my son. He, like many of his generation, is "discovering' the rock music of the 1970s. I smile indulgently as he rhapsodizes over Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith. I nod in agreement as he marvels at the genius of Bowie and Zappa. I wince a little at his inclusion of Fog hat, and then I am forced, after the next act he mentions, to bring his recitation to a screeching halt. "Josh, NO!" I say, slapping the table sharply. You've got to correct these pups immediately and decisively for the lesson to sink in. "Not the Eagles! Bad youngster! Look — I understand that the current musical landscape is a little bleak and sterile and it makes sense that you and your peers would look back to a richer, more fertile era, but dragging the Eagles back into the mix is like mining for fossilized dinosaur poop. The value is strictly as an archaeological or historical document and utterly without artistic merit. There's gold in them thar hills, son! Leave the dross for the slag-heap. They are the opposite of art. It's not even okay to like them ironically, which is something I know you young people like to do. You forcing me to even acknowledge them by dint of this conversation is corroding my spiritual essence. The sad fact that their greatest hits* album is one of, if not the, greatest selling albums of all time is the single strongest piece of evidence available that THIS COUNTRY HAS GOT ITS COLLECTIVE HEAD UP ITS AGGREGATE ASS!"
"Say," said a flannel-shirted mustache a couple of barstools down. "I got that CD out in my truck."
"Well, you probably paid for that haircut, too, so I'm not really surprised," I said.
"Hope, my mama did it," he said. "I think I resent the implication that I got my head up my ass.
"Resent away, motherfucker. Better yet, pull it out. It wasn't so much an implication as a direct accusation, by the way. Anyway, this is a private conversation, so why don't you go out to your truck and witchy wain your ass outta here?"
"I think I might be offended on behalf of the USA, too!"
"Clay, how about you and the whole fuckin’ country blow me, how would that be?"
"Hey now, relax, you guys take it easy," said the barmaid.
"Now see what you did? You got the nice lady reciting Eagles songs," I said.
"What? You can't talk about my country like that," he said.
"Yes I can, and you know why? It's my country too, dumb as it is and full of Eagle lovin' redneck jagoffs, present company included. Go piss up a rope."
I was sitting on a barstool, and then I was lying on the floor. He didn't even get up off his perch, just reached around my friend and walloped me as I was admiring myself delivering my tirade in the backbar mirror. I struggled to my feet and prepared to enjoin the varlet in battle but was as quickly hustled out the front door while the other guy remained inside, as if I'd instigated the altercation and was somehow responsible. Well, screw 'em if they found my opinions that upsetting. Best I find a better class of people to share them with.
Although — when an opinion loosed into the wild like that begins generating mayhem and discord, it is perhaps an opportunity to take stock, review its provenance, and moderate its intensity. From whence came this venom and vitriol? They're just a very mellow country-rock band, after all. Yes, the music is awful and the genre itself is a pointless portmanteau, but is the vigor of my reaction entirely justified? Mayhap there is something beyond the face value of this issue. I cast my mind back to my formative years to try and establish a genesis for my animosity. The earliest memory I could summon involved me cheerily singing along with "Take It Easy" on the radio, and the next was being at a party in junior high and dragging the tone arm across an Eagles record, ripping it off the turntable, breaking it over my knee, and flinging the jagged shards at my horrified host. Clearly something had happened in the intervening time, but what? I'd heard about repressed memory syndrome and the ability of the mind to suppress traumatic events by burying them deep in the subconscious and not allowing the conscious mind access.
Part of me thought that if there was something up there in the subconscious it should stay buried, but if going after it could prevent situations like the one above, maybe I should look into it.
I called my friend Lacey who worked at the Dragon's Lair in Ukiah, an emporium dedicated to witchcraft and magic and all manner of fantastical and supernatural hexerei. "Lacey, I need to recover a possible repressed memory. Do you know anyone who deals in that sort of thing?"
"As it happens, I am a trained practitioner of the mesmerological arts and an expert revealer of past lives," she said. "Would you like to schedule an appointment?"
"Same life, just way bark, but yeah, sure. Let's do it."
We made an appointment for the following Tuesday at her house and by the time the day arrived, my inner cynic had asserted and convinced me I was wasting my time, though I still showed up.
"Hey, Lace," I said. "Look, I think 'repressed memory' is just a way for unscrupulous witch doctors to make money and weak minded lame-ohs to get attention. Besides, I'm far too clever and strong-willed to be hypnotized, don't you think? This is pointless, right?"
"Probably," she said coyly, with a witchy little smile. "Here, drink this." She handed me a foul-smelling brew in a china cup.
It is a point of personal pride with me that I eat or drink (or smoke, or shoot, or snort, or insert) anything handed to me, but I still asked. "Ew, disgusting," I said. "What was it?" "It will facilitate the process. Now, what exactly are we looking for?"
"Anything to do with the Eagles — the band — between, oh, 1971 and 1974."
"Okay, sit here, close your eyes, and just relax and listen."
A tone sounded on some sort of wind instrument, followed by another a third above it, which seemed to resonate in my bones. Lacey began to speak in a soothing, mellifluous cadence about relaxing in a pool of molten starlight and I actually started to feel as if I were sinking into a trance, but then snapped briskly awake as I experienced the tipping sensation which arouses so many napping schoolchildren. "Yep, see?" I said. "I can't relax for shit."
"On the contrary, it was a very productive session," Lacey said.
"What?" I looked at the clock and a full two hours had passed. "What the hell did I say?"
"Well, it seems you attended a concert with your parents in Golden Gate Park. The Steve Miller Band was there, and Carlos Santana, and the Eagles. You went wandering off by yourself and snuck into the backstage area where you were accosted by a couple of fellows named Dong and Len."
"Dong and Len? Wait a minute — Don and Glenn?"
"That could be it. They took you into a bus and plied you with Quaaludes and chardonnay. The one called Dong, or Don, took off your shoes and washed your feet while his partner opened a multitiered tackle box. Each taking a foot, they gave you a deluxe pedicure complete with glossy clearcoat, all the while cooing and kissing on your feet. Once the enamel was dry, one wielded a movie camera while the other did unspeakable things to your feet, then they switched positions. After they were done, they had a roadie take you to an aid station, where your parents found you a couple of hours later, apparently with no memory of what had occured."
"They raped my feet? My God... So much for lofty notions of the noble raptor. No wonder I never take my socks off when I have sex. Man! I feel so much better! Now I can begin to heal. Thanks, Underalls, you're the best."
"You're welcome, and don't call me that."
First I couldn't remember, and now I'll never forget, though I think I can forgive Dong and Len their sickness. I probably still won't be able to listen to the Eagles, but I suppose I can now find it in my heart to allow others that dubious pleasure. And, though it goes without saying, should you find yourself in their presence, keep your shoes on.