So I came up with this song — the Denver number — around the same time I wrote this essay. Sometimes I’ll write something and it’ll get love and affection; other times, even my friends just pass it by. I figured that the Conspiracy! essay would be a popular one. For whatever reason, I was dead wrong about that. My conclusions might not have been too satisfying, or maybe the writing wasn’t engaging enough to justify the density of the paragraphs. There’s nothing about it I’d take back, though; in fact, if you read it all the way through, I think you might agree that it was one of the few times in my life when I was actually prophetic.
That makes good sense because I am obsessed with conspiracy theory. Seriously: chemtrails, faked moon landings, Pizzagate, aliens, fluoridation, Paul is Dead, whatever you’ve got, bring it on, I’ll stay up reading about it. I am very interested in the way that American consciousness has been reformatted by protracted exposure to the associative logic of the Internet. I also think that conspiracy theory is a natural byproduct of authoritarianism: as rulers get more and more secretive and remote, we’d have to be pretty credulous to accept their word on things. Since we all have some limited investigative resources at our disposal now, and time on our hands, we’re bound to sit in front of the computer and connect the dots into all kinds of crazy constellations. It’s the modern sentence.
The direct inspiration for “Conspiracy Theory” was Camper Van Beethoven and David Lowery, who has authored some fearsome conspiracy theory numbers. I was trying to capture that slightly daft repetitiveness that I associate with the early Camper albums; Elvis Presley died and no one knows why, etc. I don’t think that Camper would have used a Sub 37 necessarily, or played a Wakemanesque line over the chord progression, but that’s my weakness, not theirs.
Anyway, this is where we start with America 2017: a small apartment in Colorado, and an alienated male subject, worried about his money and his health and with no good reason to trust anybody around him. Like a homemade computer (or bomb), his lament is designed to be modular, and I may hop on and change the fifth verse as events overtake me. I hadn’t heard of Vitaly Churkin until a couple of weeks ago; when he turned up dead and the Internet started brimming over with theories, I knew I had to put him on the song. (Also, his name scanned very well.) Prior to that, I’d been singing Jacqueline Sutton/and Serena Shim — Google those names if you’d like to take a trip down the rabbit hole. Given how much conspiracy theory there is in circulation, I doubt I’ll ever sing that verse the same way twice.