Sluttering is a word that Blake Schwarzenbach made to give this state a name, this game a guess. (In case anyone’s wondering, the word means as little as your little test.)

The tune ends with a refrain “if you hear this song a hundred times it still won’t be enough.” I had the thought today as I swept the apartment with music up loud, how many times _have_ I heard that song? Is it a hundred? It’s possible. I first heard the song at the Metro in … 1995? on their tour with Jawbox. Shortly after that I bought the album it was on, just out. I thought it was overproduced at first, but I’ve since listened to it I don’t know how many times. A hundred doesn’t feel like a stretch. Music means a lot to me. That says most of it.

I rediscovered a mix tape today, made several years ago in an angrier and much sadder time, that’s what the boombox blared while I swept today. I’d titled it “songs for quitting.” I’ve had this thought several times before, that most of my favorite songs have a pretty despairing content lyrically. It’s part of that sensibility I like of being trapped as opposed to lost. At the same time, the music isn’t actually conveying “give up.” The content of the lyrics tends to convey that, but that same content has no explanation for why the song was written. That is, if the lyrical content told the whole story, the song would never have been written or performed. What I like about this, is that performance of a song like that conveys something that the lyrics don’t. The performance says something more than “give up,” it says “we keep on keeping on.” The “we” is important. The despairing sensibility in the words as written is usually an individual sentiment, whereas the performance involves one or more singers alongside multiple instruments and (in live performance, where music is best) a bunch of interactions with the audience which can make or break the quality of the performance. That conveys less of an idea and more of a feeling that there’s more than dead ends, that circumstances which can provoke despair can be pushed on through. For some reason the performance of that feeling is more powerful than the straightforward statement of that idea, I think because in moments of despair the problem is often less one of right ideas than it is of conviction in those ideas. Ideas can be (probably always are) a part of despair and its alternatives, but ideas aren’t always a sound answer, and it’s the non-idea or extra-idea parts of music that I think help to get the bits that need more than or other than just ideas. Same with good stories and other works of art, I think. (I must eventually get back to reading Richard Rorty, for all kinds of reasons, not least of which is his claim that moral progress will be better served by spreading more sad stories than by making arguments – that’s a loosely related point to what I’m on about here. Plus I just like the epistemology stuff, like this old conversation with Colin that never really resolved.)

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