We can’t go on (with suspicious minds)

...We are left to grapple with the very real psychological condition that inspired all this classic rock ‘n’ roll in the first place: Paranoia

Much as I was a fan of Black Sabbath in my metal days, I never really liked their 1970 smash-hit, ‘Paranoid’. For one thing, I always suspected that the main riff was just a re-working of the solo of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Dazed and Confused’... released almost a year before. But it was the lyrics that bugged me the most. “Finished with my woman ‘cos she couldn’t help me with my mind...” ... erm... hate to bring this up so many years later, but those are pretty lousy grounds for a divorce. If you wanted ‘help with your mind’, you should have gone to a shrink. It’s not ‘your woman’s’ job to cure you of psychological issues, you know.

And whatever those issues are/were, ‘paranoia’ doesn’t seem to feature in them at all.

“Make a joke and I will sigh and you will laugh and I will cry”... As far as I can see, that makes you a party-pooper, not a paranoid nut. And depending on the joke, it could even be a perfectly normal, non-pathological response (it approximates my own reaction to most of what passes for ‘comedy’ on local television, for instance).

No, indeed. If you want a better example of paranoia-induced rock lyrics, I’d recommend Lou Reed. Something like ‘Waves of Fear’ from ‘The Blue Mask’: “Crazy with sweat, spittle on my jaw; What's that funny noise, what's that on the floor... Waves of fear, pulsing with death; I curse my tremors, I jump at my own step...” Or, to delve even deeper into the tortured psyche of rock’n’roll... someone like Robert Johnson: “My doorknob keeps on turnin', must be spooks around my bed... I have a warm, old feelin', and the hair risin' on my head...” (Malted Milk, 1937)

About paranoia they were never wrong, the old Blues masters. How well they understood that it originates, and ends, in their own minds...

And there’s a perfectly logical reason why those two songwriters would capture the essence of true paranoia so convincingly (where, in my oh-most-humble opinion, Black Sabbath failed). They weren’t trying to. Both were writing about the physical symptoms of delirium tremens: induced by alcoholism (in Johnson’s case), or drugs, or both (as is most likely the case with Reed).

Paranoia crept into their lyrics because it was how they were genuinely feeling at the time they wrote those songs. With Ozzie Osbourne, on the other hand, I suspect it was more a case of hearing a new word for the first time, then using it as a song (and album) title without ever bothering to find out what it meant.

There. I’ve been meaning to say that about that song for almost four decades. But now that it’s off my chest, I feel I also have to add the following proviso: my misgivings about the riff/lyrics will NOT stop me from banging my head to that tune, the next time I hear it on the dance floor. And seeing as Black Sabbath’s ‘Paranoid’ – along The Eagles’ ‘Hotel California’, and Pink Floyd’s entire album, ‘The Wall’ – is almost a second national anthem in this country, I reckon that will be fairly soon.

Just because you're paranoid, it doesn't mean they're not out to get you

Meanwhile, we are left to grapple with the very real psychological condition that inspired all this classic rock ‘n’ roll in the first place. Paranoia. There seems to be an awful lot of it (the real thing) going around at the moment; only it doesn’t seem to be inspiring any great rock anthems that I can hear. Or anything at all, other than a series of increasingly hysterical Facebook status updates and tweets... ‘hysterical’ in every sense of the word.

Take the latest example, for instance. As if it wasn’t bad enough that MPs like Godfrey Farrugia get scared every time someone drives past their front door... which reminds me: where does he live, exactly? South-Central LA? In a gangsta rap video? Or am I arousing unnecessary suspicion by merely inquiring?... we now have another MP, Jason Azzopardi, complaining all over the Internet about being ‘followed by suspicious cars’.

For some reason, a certain Elvis Presley song just started playing in my head. You’ll never guess which one...

But in any case: Azzopardi tweeted on 9 December that “Security Services who were tailing me today wt 2 cars” – of which he supplied the colour, and one licence plate number which I won’t bother repeating – “you’ll not intimidate me in my work.”

Now, to put that into perspective: apart from working as an Opposition MP, Azzopardi is also one of the lawyers representing the Caruana Galizia family, in the aftermath of a very brutal murder of Malta’s foremost investigative journalist... who had written extensively about government corruption and organised crime... and whose murder has precipitated a state of national shock and outrage that is unlikely to abate any time soon. So as you can imagine, this tweet became an instant news item.

Only it was followed by another tweet three days later, in which Azzopardi added: ‘I’ve been contacted by the MSS, who assured me that no MSS cars were ever involved in tailing me. I take his word and thank him...Police report will be filed.” And later still, a Facebook state update to explain that ‘the Police had summoned the person who had been following him, and had given [him] a satisfactory explanation on the matter’.

And... erm... nope, there’s nothing more. The last known article on the subject was headlined: ‘Closed chapter for Jason Azzopardi regarding cars which had followed him...’

Talk about an anti-climax. Aren’t we ever going to find out the identity of this suspicious ‘salt n pepper’ haired man who was driving the white car plated [licence plate number]... in a way that led Azzopardi to the extraordinarily precise conclusion that he was being tailed by none other than Malta’s secret services? Or do we, like Azzopardi, have to simply take the police’s word for it that nothing was amiss?

No, no, no. Sorry, Dr Azzopardi, but like Ozzie Osbourne before you, you are getting your psychological disorders all mixed up. Paranoia doesn’t work that way. You might be ‘satisfied’ with the explanation you were given by the police... but the paranoia you inspired in others with those tweets has meanwhile taken on a life of its own.

I, too, am beginning to feel pangs of the same paranoia myself. On your behalf. Who knows? Perhaps you really were being tailed by the MSS. Or maybe even some other secret organisation with nefarious objectives of its own. Perhaps they were ‘Men In Black’, hoping to abduct you for the purposes of some arcane alien experiment. Maybe the explanation that satisfied you so completely, was itself part of a complex conspiracy theory designed to quell your (and our) suspicions on a global level. As (I think) Henry Kissinger once said: ‘just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you’...

Besides: seeing as at least two of our national institutions (you know, the ones that are supposed to have ‘totally collapsed’) were called in to investigate this suspicious affair... perhaps the rest of the country is owed an explanation, too.

I have paranoid reasons of my own for wanting to know. Like everyone else, I occasionally drive about in a car that (on looks alone) would seem just as suspicious - to a paranoid nutter, anyway - as the ones which may or may not have followed Jason Azzopardi last week. Personally, I try to avoid the experience as much as possible... because I find there is already enough to worry about on Malta’s roads, without adding other people’s private paranoid fantasies to the list of concerns.

So you can just imagine how thrilled I’d be, if I were called in by the police – on top of having my licence number bandied about all over the worldwide web – just because I happened to have been stuck in a traffic jam behind Jason Azzopardi, for long enough to arouse his suspicions.

See what happens when you allow your paranoia to run away with you like that? You make paranoid nutters out of us all. So to conclude with yet another, totally unnecessary rock’n’roll allusion: as the King himself once said, ‘we can’t go on (with suspicious minds)...’

More in Blogs
Jobs are not an issue, but salaries are
Giving them a fighting chance
Evarist Bartolo
What was that, my Lord?
Michael Falzon
Shocked, are we? Too bad...
Raphael Vassallo

Get access to the real stories first with the digital edition