Groundhogs, Led Zeppelin, and Our Existential Existence


We love to define ourselves through artistic venues. We believe that listing off our current musical preferences provide a concise definition of who we are, and who we aim to be. Our preferences in all art forms define us in relative ways, but music appreciation appears to be the common denominator we use to define ourselves among other fans of music. Most adults continue to listen to the hit singles and albums they enjoyed back in that insecure, confusing period of our development that occurs roughly between age 15 and 25. I don’t know if it’s a sense of nostalgia we seek, or if we’re trying to relive an era of our lives we didn’t appreciate enough at the time, but most of us find ourselves trapped in that era when others defined good music for us on the sliding scale of cool. If others helped us define all of the variables inherent in the definition of cool music, and we regard our musical preferences as a concise definition of who we are, how much control did we have in shaping the people we’ve become? We might prefer to believe that we’ve left those mercurial teenage years behind us, as they become smaller and smaller in our rear-view mirrors, but some social scholars state high school is like a line from a hit single that preceded my era, but was nonetheless as ubiquitous in it, “You can check-out anytime you like, but you can never leave.”

What this means, to some, is that it is almost impossible to reach such a level of confidence regarding our identity. It is possible to know thyself to elevated degrees as we age, but remain forever susceptible to getting this definition slapped around by the prevailing winds of cool and uncool? This spawns another question: Do we ever reach a point where this dimension of our identity is absolute and true? Those of us who reflect on our life and analyze our actions believe we learn more about ourselves as we age, but others state that even though the core tenets of our personality mature as we age, our core identity forms in the early stages of life. How often was that core identity slapped around by the prevailing winds of cool and uncool? “You listen to who? Uncool man, uncool.” This spawns another question: Do we ever reach a point when this dimension of our identity is absolute and true? We all prefer to believe we’ve made individual choices regarding the music we listen to on a regular basis, but are those preferences ours, or were they shaped by group thought, rebellion to group thought, and/or rebellion to rebellious thoughts?

✽✽✽

Why do research scientists study other animals to get to the root of human psychology? Is it because the nature of the reactions other animals have are more primal? Humans are often more difficult to test, particularly in groups, because we tend to project idyllic images of who we prefer to be, rather than who we really are. Animals test much better because they remain closer to the primal state, because one animal might tell us more about our psychological base than hundreds of idyllic human test subjects can.

I understand the general point about the primal state, but I don’t understand how animals can teach us about the comparative complexities of the human mind. As far as we know, animals do not have the mental capacity to sit around and contemplate greater questions of individual identity. Most concepts of this nature are too foreign and complex for them, but how simple and primal are their brains? 

On nature shows, we witness groundhogs watch one of their own fall prey to a predator. We assume their desire to watch a predator eat one of their own is born of simplicity, but could it be more complex than we’ve ever imagined? Is the desire to watch similar to our complex desire to rubberneck an accident on the interstate, or is that a primal, base desire on our part?

Groundhogs screech and chatter when a predator eats one of their brethren. We assume these screams are a mechanism they use as a last ditch effort to try to save their brethren. We also assume that they are attempting to warn other groundhogs in the vicinity, but could these screeches be similar to those that we engage in during horror flicks when we scream while watching a predator slaughter one of our own in a slasher flick? Is their fascination with horror similar our own, in that they’re horrified, but they can’t look away? Do they chatter about the images they saw later, in the manner we do when walking out of a theater, and do they mourn the lives of former friends and relatives in the aftermath?

When humans die, we attempt to minimize the deceased so we can live better lives in the aftermath. “Richard was a great guy and all, but he was old,” we declare to minimize the pain and horror of his death. We might say something along the lines of, “He smoked,” or “he ran himself ragged for so long that it was bound to happen sooner rather than later.” One has to wonder if groundhogs have a similar need for detachment to help them achieve some sort of distance from the deceased, so they can deal with the complexities inherent in life and death better. Do they say, “Alfonso was great guy and all, but he was slow. He didn’t work out enough, and building and rebuilding his home was really one of the only forms of exercise he engaged in. I knew he was going to die, and to be frank, I say good riddance.”

Do groundhogs like and dislike other groundhogs based on personality traits? If this is the case, how far do they take it? Do they ostracize those who have strange growths on their head, or are they more accepting of differences than us? Do they castigate others based on work ethic, the obnoxious behavior of their pups, and would one groundhog ever exclude another from the cool kid, groundhog group based on a titty twister?

I used to give titty twisters all the time. If you were in my contingent, and I considered you a mentally stable male, I probably gave you a titty twister. I thought it was funny, and I considered it harmless. These titty twisters had no sexual motivations as far as I was concerned, and I didn’t do it to establish dominance over a twistee. I just considered it a funny thing to do to a guy standing there, doing nothing, and acting far too normal. I thought a good twist might shake them out of an otherwise boring, normal day. It’s who I was, and who I will probably always be. I don’t force people out of the norm with physical actions in that manner anymore. I prefer more subtle measures now.

When I gave a titty twister to this one guy, however, he punched me in the chest for it. I twisted his titty. He was being too normal. He had a normal expression on his face, and he didn’t say anything for a spell. I gave him a titty twister, because I thought he needed a random shake.

His reaction might have left me doubled over on a normal day, as I loved impulsive, obnoxious reactions, but his reaction carried a mean face with it. I assumed we were friends, but his mean face informed me that the punch sent a message that rejected everything I valued, and that our friendship was officially irretrievable. I’m sure groundhogs reject other groundhogs’ over over-the-top attempts at humor, but do they hold grudges? This guy told people he hated me after that, and he added an insulting characterization of my manhood.

Does a groundhog ever do anything to shake up the norm, or is their existence so primal that they’re simply happy to be alive for one more day? Does that attribute say more or less about human beings? Do we take life for granted to such a degree that we’re no longer happy just to be alive? Is this desire to shake our lives out of the norm a complex desire, or is it a simplistic, biological need to keep our brains firing at a rapid pace?

If a groundhog decided to perform an act of procreation in a different position, for example, would we document that decision as simple or complex? If the groundhog displayed a sense of listlessness prior to trying the new position, how would we document his actions? If the groundhog performed his act on other groundhogs when his selected mate wasn’t around, would we view the adulterous act as complex or simplistic? If we could see inside the groundhog’s brain and witness a dream of an army of aliens shackling him to a wall, while suckling on his reproductive organ for the semen nutrient they needed to survive, would we consider this a complex need for fantasy or a simplistic, base desire?

That former friend of mine, whom I titty twisted into an enemy was a heavy metal dude, and I was a heavy metal dude. I mistakenly assumed that commonality would serve as the glue to our lifelong bond.

Most of the people I grew up around were heavy metal dudes. We called all like-minded souls, hessians. I so badly wanted to be a hessian that I was willing to do just about anything to make it happen, but I had a tough time gaining entrance into their world. I didn’t like Rush or Iron Maiden, but I did like KISS. They regretted to inform me that my application to into the world of hessianism would require a rejection notification at this time, for KISS was too popular and mainstream. Feel free to reapply, they said, when your preferences evolve to more of an outlier group. If I stubbornly resisted Rush or Iron Maiden, they said, then I should feel free to explore the worlds of Slayer or Megadeth. “Sorry,” I said. I wanted to be a hessian, but I didn’t care for those musicians. Their album cover art was cooler than cool, with cool monsters and satanic imagery, but their music was beyond me. I wore the mandatory denim jacket and donned the requisite mullet, but for some reason I was on the outside looking in for most of my young life. It may have had something to do with the fact that I didn’t say the “Dude” but I didn’t give “a durn about nothing”, and I found authority figures laughable. I thought that should be enough.

One thing I learned in the beginning of my public square humiliation was that my practice of calling my grandma “My Nana” would be out, if I wanted to be a hessian. I didn’t have to hate her or anything she stood for, as that was a trait reserved for punkers, but I didn’t have to like her so much either. A hessian was to remain somewhat unimpressed by his grandmother’s entrance into a room. He might consider shaking her hand as an alternative to hugging her, and a “Hello ma’am” is a viable alternative to running across a room screaming, “Nana!” When the greeting reaches a conclusion, the hessian is then to go on about his business, as if he’s not concerned with her existence. Ignoring such staples could consign the music aficionado to the perception shared by Genesis and the B-52s listeners.

Genesis lovers valued simplicity over the adrenaline rush we found in the force of heavy metal, so we hated them, and hating things gained us a lot more mileage than any expression of love, adoration, or a fondness for anything or anyone. Hatred gave a hessian character and complexity. To the question, “Do you enjoy the music of Phil Collins?” one must answer, “No. I think he’s feminine.” Loving something subjects one to scorn and ridicule, and it gives a hessian the license to hate another. What you love is irrelevant be it KISS, Happy Days, or your Nana. Loving something is a weakness to poke and prod, until the recipient of such scorn is too embarrassed to love anything, unless it’s Metallica. One can say, “I love Metallica,” and their hessian membership card will remain unblemished, but that’s the extent of love in the hessian world.

If the scorned has never heard the music of Metallica, friends will instruct them to run out to the store tomorrow and buy Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets, or And Justice for All…” If the listener stubbornly refuses to worship these three albums, after repeated listens, they run the risk of having a ‘poser’ label cast upon them. That person may as well take the denim jacket off, cut their mullet, and start calling their grandma “My Nana” again, because they’ll never gain entrance into the hallowed halls of the hessian.

Hessians can smile and laugh, but they need to reserve those reactions for moments of scorn and ridicule. A hessian can like KISS and Van Halen, but as I said that’s not enough. They cannot –I repeat cannot– like Poison, Cinderella, or Faster Pussycat. Doing so, will open up the floodgates for scorn and ridicule, granting all card-carrying hessians in attendance the smile and laugh allowance. I assume that social media forums have made life easier for teens in America by comparison, for a person can now block those who question their musical preferences.

This complex world of identity through music became a lot easier for me when I became a Zeppelin guy though. Prior to experiencing the sensorial, shocking world of Led Zeppelin, I assumed they could be lumped in with The Doobie Brothers, Foghat, and all the other relatively nondescript bands of seventies music. When I discovered how faulty that assumption was, I became a Zeppelin guy.

Most of the fellas I knew wanted to befriend Zeppelin guys. They wanted to talk with us, be like us, and accept us into their community. I could hang out with Zeppelin guys. We could talk for hours about the band’s iconography and folklore. I could even proselytize others into the Zeppelin world if I wanted another friend. I could just play the Led Zeppelin albums II and Zoso, and create a friend, complete with all the shared associations and memories that went along with it. After becoming a Zeppelin guy and creating more Zeppelin guys, I decided to progress from being just a Zoso and Zeppelin II guy to a Physical Graffiti and Zeppelin III guy. I learned every lyric and every beat on those two Zeppelin albums, and to some Zeppelin guys I progressed from being a Zeppelin guy to the Zeppelin guy. For loving those two albums as much as I did, other Zeppelin guys assigned complicated and mysterious Zeppelin guy characteristics to me.

“Yeah, II and Zoso are great,” I said to beginners, “but wait till you start listening to III and Fizzy Graph,” (Fizzy Graph was the nickname the Zeppelin guys gave to Physical Graffiti.) “I’ll lend them to you when you’re ready.”

It was a glorious world to enter into, a world of opportunity. In this world, Zeppelin girls existed, and one could taste forbidden fruits and still be one of the fellas. Hessians, punkers, and even some Genesis guys could stand side by side, in mutual admiration. This society involved musicians and music aficionados of all stripes. We could talk, laugh, and listen to the greatest music ever produced, for as all Zeppelin guys know, all music stems from Led Zeppelin.

Zeppelin guys felt like rule breakers, for who broke more rules than Jimmy, Robert, JPJ, and Bonzo? Rule breakers do have rules though, albeit unspoken ones. We Zeppelin guys still had to avoid giving a durn about most things, as being a Zeppelin guy wasn’t a cloak against being ostracized. We still had to despise Beverly Hills 90210, Michael Jackson songs, and Tom Cruise movies, and the fake, superficial, and artificial matters, they espoused. We also could not permit fellow Zep guys to call their grandma “My Nana” either, especially if they aspired to the Zep guy status.

We also had to fortify our Zeppelin guy status on a continual basis, then the Zeppelin guy status if we were lucky enough to achieve it. A Zeppelin guy still had to guard himself against complacency in the Zep guy world, or we could lose our status entirely. It was all right to enjoy the music on In Through the Out Door, for example, but a true Zeppelin guy could not love it, because the music on that album relied on synthesizers too much, and John Paul Jones had far too much influence on it. It lacked the raw Page/Plant magic of the first six albums, and every fella who wanted to maintain the Zeppelin guy status had to know that.

We all know that the brain of a groundhog is less complex than that the human brain, but we also know that even the most simplistic, primal minds react to music. If a groundhog listens to the same music, however, will he, over time, develop an affinity for it? Will certain groups of groundhogs break out of the pack and develop discerning taste? Will these groups begin to develop an affinity for Zeppelin over Genesis? Will they begin to ostracize Genesis lovers just to gain some cachet within their own groups? Will groundhogs reach a point when it is no longer about the music for them but the iconography and complexities they developed in their particular group in the groundhog community for the music they chose to love? Will their love for the music strengthen over time, and if it does, will it reach a point when one can characterize that love as complex, or will we simply deem it a simplistic desire to belong to that group of groundhogs who listened to the same music other groundhogs considered cool, and will the groundhogs ever begin to see the distinction for what it is?