Happiness Is Submission To God

By Nathan Payne | pablosmoglives | 3 Oct 2021

Last week, I was kidnapped by members of the faculty of the Escuela de Cantautoristas de Pablo Smog in Veracruz, Mexico.  Some weird, dirty, unemployed-looking guys pointed their guitars in my face and shoved me in the back of a van and drove me into the jungle, where I was forced to stand in fire ants until I accepted the dubious honor of joining their ranks.  I was given a choice:  Teach songwriting to the urban youth of Veracruz, or die.  I will now be teaching the evening classes at the Veracruz "campus" on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, in an alley strung with Christmas lights, Dia de los Muertos puppets, sad little photographs of missing relatives, and multicolored papel picado.  If you want to enroll, the easiest way is to start looking for hard street drugs in a dangerous part of Veracruz; eventually, somebody will come up to you and ask you what you want, or what the hell you're doing here, white boy.  You will be terrified for your life and understand nothing that is said to you, but don't worry.  All you have to do is look the guy in the eyes and say, with grizzle and grit and a general air of reckless badassery, "Pablo Smog Lives."  If you survive, which is frankly unlikely, since the school is underfunded and only has, like, 3 recruiters working the street at any given time, and whoever you meet might be an actual junkie thief in search of funds or blood or both, the recruiter will lead you through a Byzantine maze of brick walls, barking dogs, and blacked-out alcoholics until you reach the office of the Pablo Smog School of Songwriting, which is guarded by 2 scarred, stoned delinquents holding golden guitars at intimidating angles, from their lofty position on a platform made of milk crates.  Don't bother looking for a sign.  There are no signs in Mexico.  At this time, if you're lucky, the faculty will emerge from behind iron doors and curtains of torn sackcloth and a guitar will be forced into your hands and you will play an original song, to see if you meet the admission requirements. 

The requirements are simple:

1.  Must Not Suck

2.  Must Rock

3.  Must Not Be Afraid To Die

That's it.  If you rock, don't suck, and are not afraid to die, you will be shaken down for anything of value you may have on your person.  I strongly suggest you give it up.  I don't care if it's a knitted million-dollar bill from your grandmother that's been handed down for generations.  I don't care if it's your little finger.  Give it up.  What are you doing carrying all that nice stuff around anyway.  Leather shoes and little fingers are the hallmarks of an amateur.  No songwriter who's been in the trenches for longer than 20 minutes is in possession of nice shoes, or all their fingers.  Not unless they're faculty.  Don't go looking for the Escuela de Cantautoristas de Pablo Smog with anything valuable on your person.  Wear a torn hoodie and some sneakers you found behind the dumpster.  Don't shower for at least 3 days before you leave.  Leave your passport at the hotel.  Who are you going to identify yourself to, anyway?  The police?  Hahahahahahaha, yeah right.  The police all work for the school, fool.  Give away anything that is demanded of you.  Your dignity will be the first to go.  No songwriting student has any use for his or her dignity.  There's no way to not be afraid to die until you've lost your dignity.  This isn't some backalley extortion operation posing as a legitimate business.... well okay maybe it is, but it's also the best music school in the jungle.  Bananas, coffee, and world-class songwriters, is what they produce in Veracruz.  And probably cocaine, and weed, and sugar beets.  But songwriters is what it's known for.  Ask anyone.

If the faculty is impressed, and your headless corpse isn't hanging upside-down from a bridge with a dozen other applicants under a sign that reads "Not Pablo Smog's Songwriting Class of 2021," you will be allowed to attend a lecture by none other than Pablo Smog himself.  He's like the Pablo Escobar of music, so make sure you don't laugh at him or disrespect him in any way.  His songwriting methods are brutal.  I once watched him play "Stairway to Heaven" on a chainsaw to show what an overrated, hyped-up piece of would-be mythical nonsense it is.  Something about a hedgerow and a hippie chick with her head in the clouds.  Please.  And yes, he played it on an actual chainsaw.  With his teeth.  Hardcore.

That reminds me, before I forget.  NEVER, under any circumstances, ever bring up or mention "Bob Dylan" in anything but a dismissive context.  If you want to get in Pablo's good graces, say something about how "Bob Dylan" was a rich kid who bought his way into the NY scene with his father's connections and nothing but an album full of half-assed cover songs and who later outsourced his writing to ghost writers (possibly Paul Simon and Leonard Cohen, among others), and who was the original one-man boy band.  Make fun of Dylan's first album cover, talk about what a talentless, petulant, fake little punk he obviously is, and how he owes the entire world an apology for being such a farce.  Say something about how Townes Van Zandt was the Ramones of country, and back it up with hardcore artistical facts, and write a concept album about it, something that sounds like both TVZ and the Ramones while also sounding only like yourself, but don't make it so good that you get killed by jealous elements within the local songwriting cartel/police force.

Pablo will love you after that.

Anyway, I have to write this article about "Happiness is Submission to God" so that Pablo doesn't decapitate my Teddy Bear and pour honey on my toes.  I'm not sure I understood the 2nd part of the threat, but whatever it is, it isn't good.

So here it is.

I wrote "Happiness is Submission to God" in Brooklyn, NY and Watertown, MA in the late summer/early fall of 2006.  There's a lot of truth in the lyrics, but it isn't a biography.  There are also imaginative elements that never occurred, but it isn't some farcical fantasy trip.  There are lines I never liked and don't agree with, but which work for the song.  It's funny, but it also makes you want to drink Jack Daniels in a church.  The title is religious, but the song is rooted in life, mistakes, and the grave.  Listen here:



I don't really have anything else to say about it.  If it doesn't speak for itself, it isn't any good.  How the hell am I going to get out of this miserable backalley teaching position?  Maybe this is the test.  If I go on ad infinitum about my own material, like an ass, I die.  If I say, well, here it is, whatever it is, check it out, I get a golden guitar and some drugs by the swimming pool.  I don't do drugs anymore though.  Well anyway, who cares.  If you're afraid to die, you have no business picking up a guitar.

I did pass out on some picnic tables on the mountains near Tucson once, though, after a night of heavy drinking by the railroad tracks.  The sun was coming up as I walked back to my car, super loaded, and I thought, this is going to be a rough day.  It was June, and the sun and heat woke me up a couple hours later (sleeping in the car, of course), so I made it to some large, cheap-looking economy grocery store and bought water and carrots and a loaf of bread and went up to the mountains, Mt. Lemmon I think, and passed out on a picnic table surrounded by pine trees.  I was safe, or so I thought. 

While I slept, the sun passed directly overhead, and I was wearing some cargo shorts but nothing else, and the Arizona sun burned into my chest and legs as I slept.  The pine trees didn't protect me from the sun directly overhead.  I woke up so burned I could barely walk.  I limped to the car and down the hill and wasted the money on a Motel 6 in Benson, checking in at noon so I could get the full 24-hour period (I have been living outdoors so long I genuinely don't understand why people check into hotels after noon.  You're spending weeks on end in the woods or in the desert, so get the full 24-hour indoor shower/power/air-conditioning treatment if you can.  Who checks in to a hotel at 8pm?  People on vacation, that's who.  People who live outside milk it.  Take a bath in the tub scarred with cigarette burns.  Walk to the Circle K and buy some chips and a microwave hamburger for the movie channel.  What's on?  Who cares.  Watch it, indoors, with the shades drawn and the A/C on high.  Does the room smell like cigarettes; does the phone look like it could give you AIDS?  The cool thing about hotels that smell like cigarettes is you can smoke weed in them.  The cool thing about hotels with phones that have AIDS is that..... hmmm, well I'll have to think about that one.  I wrote a poem about hotel rooms once.  This is it:


Hotel rooms are my ________,

my clean, day-use oasis.


That's it.  It doesn't even matter if I can't remember the last word of the first line.  It's such an epic example of homeless, punk-rock haiku that it resists the need to be completed, reheated, or even halfway remembered.  John Milton eat yr heart out).

Anyway, that's the story of the verse about the "slow news day in Heaven," and sleeping like a "Camaro in the sun."  That part is true.  But I never drank wine in Winnemucca.  In fact I've only ever driven through Winnemucca.  I have wanted to stop and play Roulette a couple times, but never have.  The nomadic life is a constant search for a free place to spend the night, and it can take all day.  Driving 20 miles one-way into the desert only to realize there's nothing out there, and driving 20 miles back, takes hours.  Then you go to the next dusty trail off the main road, driving off into the horizon, and eventually you find a place to stay.  The idea is to find someplace to park for at least 3 days.  In 15 years of car/van life, I have spent exactly ONE night at Wal-Mart, and that was only because the town was full of cops and I knew if I parked at the grocery store I'd be awakened in the middle of the night by a cop.  Professional nomads don't sleep at Wal-Mart.  The whole point of the life is to GET AWAY from people, not hang out in the parking lot of a megalopoliacal chain store.

But the search for a place to spend the night can take all day.  There isn't a lot of time for casinos and entertainment and fun.  And who has the money to blow?  But for alliteration's sake, the song needs the line about drinking wine in Winnemucca.

Looking at it, there's actually a lot of truth in the song, things that actually happened, condensed into 4-line stanzas, but the line "the meek shall inherit the earth and luck favors the bold, you're old enough to know better" always bothered me.  It bothered me on arrival, because it implies that I don't believe what Jesus said about the meek inheriting the earth.  But what the song is doing is taking statements that express completely different and opposing ideas, and which are both common English phrases that people say without thinking, and bringing them into question.

Does luck really favor the bold?  Do the meek really inherit the earth?

Yes or no?  You can decide for yourself, but asking the question is the important part.  That's why I kept it, even though on the surface, I'm expressing something I don't agree with.  You can read my article about ARTISTIC LEGALISTS HERE if you're interested in the topic.

Anyway, yeah, the song is there.  Don't throw ideas like spaghetti at the wall just to see what sticks.  That's what dilettantes and amateurs do.  Throw the spaghetti, then organize it into patterns until it resembles a Rembrandt, or a Picasso, or an Iggy.  That's all you have to do.

And for the record, I've been through Barstow, stopped for gas and groceries several times, but never drank there either.  But alliteration, again, demands to be used.  The "Land of Nod" is the junky dope-nod.  I have been there.  It's better than it sounds.





Happiness Is Submission To God


with the cops on my tail and the devil on my back

I crossed under the bridge and over the tracks

a pillar of smoke and an old Cadillac

to take me back to wherever I came from


sailboats of fire as far as I can see

junky chicks with needles in their knees

I don’t have time for your ridiculous decrees

ain’t nobody gonna make a meal outta me


I saw a skeleton wrapped in a poodle skirt

I saw a telephone ringing in the dirt

I saw the face of Christ in the cigarette burns on my shirt

Lord, I am not worthy


a voice in the clouds screamed, “Lay off the Junk!”

everything is on cocaine and I’m always drunk

all the towns look the same and everybody’s punk

I’m a street,

I’m your favorite crazy uncle


            someday I’ll be back

            but for now I’m off counting sidewalks in the crack


18 wheels on my heels and I’m feelin’ fine

when I get to Winnemucca gonna have me some wine

usta be I could see but now I am blind

ya wanna spend the night with me, baby I don’t mind


I was drunk off my ass

I was loaded like a gun

I slept like a Camaro in the sun

but the cactus on the hills aren’t having any fun

it’s another slow news day in Heaven


            someday I’ll be back

            but for now I’m off counting sidewalks in the crack


the sun filled the sky with jealousy & rage

I am a child of this ridiculous age

my fist is the actor your face is the stage

that’s just true


the moon hung low in a Bettie Page sky

Marilyn Monroe it’s time for you to die!

Hollywood girls & hollow-eyed guys

with murder in their hearts & stars in their eyes


reality is relative, or so I’m told

whoever said that never spent a night out in the cold

the meek shall inherit the earth and luck favors the bold

you’re old enough to know better


            someday I’ll be back

            but for now I’m off counting sidewalks in the crack


the snow was wearing handcuffs and we were in love

in the back of a squad car I finally discovered

my purpose, drunken disheveled & covered

in bruises from head to toe


I don’t need a nurse & I don’t need a medic

everybody knows bad news is genetic

all this heartache is giving me a headache

so put down the cure and pass the anaesthetic


I’m full of piss and it’s 9am

she’s talking to me but she’s looking at him

the lights in the waiting room are a little too dim

can somebody please tell me what I’m doing here again?


            someday I’ll be back

            but for now I’m off counting sidewalks in the crack


spare the child and spoil the rod

happiness is submission to God

I thought I was in control but I was a fraud

from the barstools of Barstow

to the land of nod



© 2006 Nathan Payne

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Nathan Payne
Nathan Payne

I am a songwriter and bandleader who travels the world in search of the golden ticket. http://www.pablosmoglives.com


Replacing my blog at http://pablosmoglives.wordpress.com

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