That cursed hi-fi blaring out the window for you.
I found the file with stuff from an abandoned music blog I was gonna do, that I started and faded out on. I definitely don’t have half the wherewithal and whatnot to manage multiple blogs. What I had had in mind was a process and a practice of regular rough drafting, about music. I also thought I’d collect good writing about music, with an eye toward both learning more about music and toward learning how to write better, about music and in general. I also thought I might college good essay writing that dealt with music, and to write a bit about me and music, within the limits of what I’m willing to say on the internet, again with an eye toward learning to write better. Among my aspirations: craft and quality, and just writing to write (which is key to craft as well – learning to write requires doing more writing, as in, don’t get self-inhibiting, but also push myself to work hard, on the stuff that comes harder, like issues of craft). Developing some discipline, to develop greater ability and freedom (like practicing scales on an instrument).
And now, those music posts, for self archiving purposes.
I don’t remember when I first heard Nirvana in the sense of placing it in time, but I remember how that moment felt. The music jumped out of the radio and it hit me in a visceral way. Several years later I saw them perform, my sophomore year of high school I believe, I think in 1994. Jawbreaker opened for them and I don’t think I’m exaggerating too much if I say that that was a life changing experience. Jawbreaker has been a big part of my life off and on ever since and that show was part of the early stages of my involvement in punk, which was life altering or life defining as well. Ben Weasel, who I didn’t know of at the time and who would later become one of my favorite song writers, introduced Jawbreaker. His intro text is online here, I remember it really clearly – http://www.hondosbar.com/forum/index.php?/topic/2014-one-for-nirvana-fans/ – I also remember clearly that Jawbreaker’s “Boat on a Hill” stuck in my and my friends heads for weeks afterward, though we’d never heard them. Shortly after, a friend bought their Unfun album and loaned it to me.
Getting back to Nirvana, Nirvana I associate with a pre-punk part of my life though I’m sure I retroactively mark these overly neatly with breaks rather than overlaps. Nirvana doesn’t strike me as articulate (unlike much of Jawbreaker). A writing teacher of mine once said, perhaps a bit condescendingly but true, that in his experience young people tend to gravitate toward both extremity and abstraction, resulting in a sort of cartoon Tasmanian Devil writing. This teacher would say about this kind of writing, “I get that the writer feels something intense! I don’t get much more.” Nirvana is sort of like that I think.
That said, Nirvana expresses something that, like I said, jumped out of the radio and struck me at a level I didn’t have words to express. In a way it’s fitting then that the words expressed without sense in much of their songs, at least for me as a listener. It’s almost like I had these inarticulate feelings that I needed words to articulate but I wanted generic words – syllables and sounds, a sort of quasi-language – but not any particular words (any actual sentences or clear comprehensible meaning) because part of what I was trying to express was this “ugh, damn it…!” sort of situation, that of having strong feelings and lack of ability to express them in clear words.
The music was loud too, I liked and still like that. And it was dissonant, but at least sometimes it resolved. I didn’t have much (and don’t have much more now) of a properly musical vocabulary to understand and talk about it but I got that their music was, well, weird, but like … weird in a cool way, like, it sounds like it should be wrong and kind of it is but in a way that’s right because of it at the same time, you know what I mean? I remember having this sort of conversation with the friends I exchanged mix tapes with in high school. If I wasn’t so tired and in a bit of a rush to get to bed I’d consider looking up Grice’s Logic and Conversation essay to make a parallel here to his point about creatively flouting rules. Anyway.
One of the costs of my love of punk and eventually of other heavy music, actually there were two costs, one was that I got narrow minded for a while. If it’s not punk then who the fuck cares? became my sort of attitude. Later it became “if it’s not radical.” There are ways in which this was appropriate to where I was at and how old I was – developmentally appropriate, I might say now, with the condescension of adulthood and hindsight – and there are downsides. I missed out on some very good music for a while as a result. The silver lining to that (by the way, I almost called this blog Silver Linings, can’t recall if I mentioned that) is that it’s left me with a lot more music discover as I’ve gotten older and more musically open minded. The other downside, speaking of discovering new music, is an intellectual and emotional intuition that has inhibited me in getting into some new music sometimes. I got into punk in a sort of deep-coring way: find out EVERYTHING about ALL OF IT. This was partly about personal and social games of insecurity and one-upsmanship (do you deserve punk? are you really punk? prove it!), and it was partly just this sense of “ohmygodthere’ssomuchofthisandijustloveitallsomuch!” because discovering punk at the time felt like finding a whole other world that was just there around the corner from the one I lived in – sort of like if we imagined that shadows were sentient beings with whole cultures and so on, or sort of like Harry Potter’s world, really – and I could access and engage in and reside in that world. It felt limitless and so much of it was so good. I wanted to know all of it as much and as fast as possible.
And, the downside. As I got older, and I still have this today though I manage it better, as I became interested in other kinds of music I had an impulse to get shy and insecure until I had a deep-coring expedition successfully launched, until I knew a lot about a lot and had a sort of map. That made it hard to just enjoy good music, and certainly to do so with other people.
Massive Attack was something I got into later in my “it doesn’t have to just be punk” phase. I have more to say on all this and I want to actually talk about this actual piece of music but I have to be up in the morning. More later. [Mental note: talk about Sam Cooke and DB telling me about him.]
I still need to finish my last post but I wanted to write this one now. It’s september 11th, which around here is a national something, probably an official holiday. I oppose and am outraged and saddened over the actions that the U.S. government and a large portion of the U.S. populace took in response to those attacks, and the role that the U.S. government played in helping create the conditions that gave rise to those attacks. I’d respond this way whether or not they were the U.S. though. I do feel more responsible because this is “my” government but that’s a feeling; intellectually I don’t think I’m all that much more particularly personally responsible for any of this than I am for other government’s actions – the U.S. isn’t particularly mine in the sense of responsibility to act in the short term because in the short term there aren’t meaningful outlets through which I can act. I’m in a mood today and I find some responses a bit flat to say the least, in the sense of a failure of empathy. Atrocities are not competitors. Numerically we can measure them ion various ways, in availability perhaps as well and in culpability for action and inaction. But atrocity is atrocity at another level, and isn’t comparable. To put it another way, it seems to me that speaking about atrocity at least within speech communities wherein some people feel affected, requires a foregrounding empathy internally (as in, making a genuine effort to start from empathy) and externally (as in, rhetorically and proceeding with sensitivity). Not proceeding in such a way is an ethical failing (I would qualify this by saying that the enormity of that ethical failing varies by speech-community-and-atrocity — it’s observer-relative, so to speak). Hence, J Church today. I can’t be nice to you. Sometimes for some people this is how it is for me. This too is an ethical failing. Were I better and had I better resources, I would be able to be more nice to more people. But I’m not and I don’t and so I’m not able. Of course I’m obfuscating here to some extent as there is an element of decision in this, though where decision ends and genuine incapacity begins is hard to determine. I’ve got an existentialist streak, something I’ve been meaning to read more about and write more about for a while now actually, so I tend to want to see it in terms of decisions. “I can’t be nice” is actually a way to say “I won’t be nice to you.” This song occurred to me in the middle of these thoughts. It took me a while to get to the point in my life where I would just admit that I didn’t want to talk to some people about some subjects, or just didn’t want to talk with them at all, and that this didn’t have to be about me being right (though of course I am right), it could just be about who I want to be around and when and under what circumstances. The second verse’s laughter at misplaced seriousness and willful disregard of some commentary and opinion is great as well. Moving to mockery and laughter is better than staying angry, even though it’s a perhaps a bitter laughter. Trying to write about the music, I generally like punk faster than this, this mid-tempo or a bit slow but here too I think it fits the subject matter. It’s not quite anthemic but it gives the sentiment a greater sense of deliberation. The narrator is of course exasperated but if this was faster it would sound more rash. As it’s paced, the rejection of contact with the person(s) in question sounds more even-handed or at least not a spur of the moment decision. I like that it starts with a relatively pretty guitar solo. I may be over-reading but I think the progression from higher to lower notes has an introspective quality. J Church generally tended to have big guitar and layered melody, including the bass parts and while there’s a sort of straining bordering on shouting in the vocals, it’d be different if it was shouted. The pretty and major key aspect of the song make it a sort of pleased or at least untroubled sound — it’s not something to be worried out or feel guilty about, I embrace that I can’t be nice to you. And the talky qualities of the vocal delivery – often the singing is as close to talking as it is to shouting (I generally like music with vocals that are closer to shouting). The song ends with a big guitar solo, octaves and all that, but it’s slow and not frenetic. Here too I tend not to prefer these qualities in music but it works with the song’s content.
I left unfinished writing about that Massive Attack/Nirvana mashup, so back to that.
I first heard of Massive Attack from a friend of mine, I was still in a narrowly punk-only phase (by that point I would rarely have listened to Nirvana) but I was impressed with this friend and wanted to like what he liked. We had similar personalities, we were creative people but also people really wanted to be creative people. Looking back I think we were hung up about wanting to be creative and about inspiration and we were very undisciplined and largely unaware of and unconcerned with craft, something that I can now see that my better musician and artist friends then and now have attended strongly to. I would say it this way now, I once heard a social movement person say “luck is the residue of design.” If inspiration is part of the luck side of creativity, craft is part of the design side. Craft and discipline set up the conditions of possibility for more and better flights of inspiration.
A few years later a friend gave me a mix tape with a lot of Massive Attack and Tricky and similar stuff on it. The stuff from Massive Attack’s Mezzanine album really grabbed me. It remains one of my all-time favorite records (I quite liked Nirvana’s In Utero album but I’ve listened to Massive Attack’s Mezzanine much more often in recent years, I can’t remember the last time I listened to Nirvana).
This mashup uses the song Angel from Mezzanine. I think the mashup is faster than the original. I like that it’s faster and yet less of a rock song for it. Listening to Angel again now, it strikes me that one of the cool things in the mashup is that both of the originals are heavier and darker, angrier sounding songs. Heart-Shaped Box is a loud, dissonant rock song. Angel is very dark and driving, building to a powerful relatively heavy sound.
The mashup takes out the slower, more introspective parts of Angel – what I think is harpsichord for what becomes the main riff here, which alternates with sustained dark but pretty piano chords. The Cobain vocals in the verse part play over the piano and harpsichord; different instruments fade in and out but the verses relatively full of sound, then the chorus, the sound drops out and builds back in behind the shouting. It’s not heavy music, though, and a few times mixed with a vocal of a woman singing from Angel. This softens and I think changes the character of the shouting. My wife used to say she liked shouted music where the anger was pained rather than aggressive and that this was a quality of Nirvana’s music. That’s amplified here. The shouting is more a matter of desperation, a sort of shouting alone. And turning the guitar solo into an outro works great. In the Nirvana song it’s a lead-in, an intro: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n6P0SitRwy8
And in Nirvana’s genre and in their music, the listener can generally expect that it will build up. Having it at the outro turns that around and highlights it further. And I know for me at one point in my life I was mostly listening for and waiting for the louder heavier parts, so I liked the quiet parts but they weren’t what it was really about. Two final thoughts, one, Nirvana unplugged was a very cool thing. By that point I was kneejerk opposed to acoustic-guitar based music, it wasn’t something I ever really had been into (and I still listen to little of that kind of thing), but then here were these really good songs done really well stripped down and acoustic… It was temporary but for a while I realized that good songs were good songs and could be performed in different ways. I had a similar experience with a Me First and the Gimme Gimmes album, where they played Stevie Wonder and Prince, and I suddenly realized how awesome that music was – I needed to hear it done as punk songs to get it, but then I could appreciate the originals a lot more. Nirvana unplugged was also cool because I taped it off of a special broadcast on a local radio station and passed that tape around to loads of my music friends for a long time before the CD came out… this reminds me I should write about the internet and music and the pre-internet…
Second thing to add, my sense of what’s “heavy” has changed a lot since I heard Nirvana. At the time I hadn’t, for instance, ever heard anything like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fXilziBLlXs
This is a song by Goldfinger, a pop-punk and punky ska band who had a minor hit in the late 90s. I saw them a couple times, they were really good live. I like the music. The chorus is catchy with a backing of multiple singers or voices, the tune is fast over all with distorted guitar and a shouty singer, I like all that. In this case I think the multiple singers on the chorus works with the content as well, as it expands the character depicted from one person to multiple people – rather than “I do this” it’s “we do this,” and it can also work as a sort of expression of feeling like multiple voices and pressures are coming to bear on one’s behaviors.
On the lyrical content, it’s all about having one’s thoughts and emotions run away with one, feeling subject to what are basically one’s own mental habits – “I can see from my mind’s eye, I make up scenarios in my head.” There’s a self loathing to this – “if you could see me, the way that I am… I know I fucked up and I wish I was dead.” The breakdown expresses a sort of dark fantasy, which in the song is I think a response to, a coping mechanism for the feeling and thought stuff, of being out of one’s own control and yet having it still be one’s self that’s in the driver’s seat, just a part of one’s self that one can’t control. If that fantasy came true it would just be another fuck up, one of the “things I did” to regret. This kind of thing makes it hard for the character to trust other people — “you act like nothing’s wrong,” because the other person must be acting, it can’t be that there really is nothing wrong…
A second song, one I heard later than the Goldfinger song:
This is Mr. Brightside by The Killers. I’ve never seen them play live. I quite like their albums, I heard their first album shortly after it came out. This song sounded (and still sounds) great to me. It has similar content. This song is all about jealous fantasies of people doing things that you don’t want them to do but can’t seem to stop imagining.
The guitar is pretty and dissonant at the same time, which is one of my favorite combinations. The keyboards are nice too. I like the fast hi-hat, I like the beat generally but the hi-hat played quickly builds tension. That changes on the build up of the jealous fantasies so that drums-wise it’s almost a sort relief once the emotional careening comes on, rather than the early build up of tension.
I don’t particularly relate to the jealously in particular but I relate to the feeling of coming-off-the-rails somewhat in both songs, and the sense of it being an internal thing. I started thinking about this and decided to post this … umm, this post, because I have a sore throat. That sucks and is uncomfortable. But also… I worry. I worry in two ways, as a matter of habit. For one, I’m a mild hypochondriac. I wonder if a mole will become cancer, I wonder if my cell phone is giving me cancer (I particularly wonder every time I get a headache), I wonder if my sore throat is strep, and if I’m going to give it to my daughter. For the other, I worry about how I’ll carry out the various things I’m responsible for if I get sick. I struggle to get everything done that I have to get done, struggle even when I’m well and well-slept, which is rare. And of course this worry and strain is part of why I’m not better-slept and I probably get sick a bit more often as a result of all this.
Three other ways I sometimes have a feeling of coming off the rails a bit. I sometimes have this strange sensation as if I’ve dreamed something that’s happening. As in, someone says or does something or I see something and I think “I saw this in a dream” and there’s always a next step or a sequence of next steps that I think I saw in the dream, next steps that follow from the current moment that I’m in and the one I’m entering. I never do the thing that sets off the train of circumstances in the dream I think I’m remembering, because the idea that that might actually be true is too much. I told some friends about this and it turns out at least two other people I know sometimes have this experience as well. Someone told me it’s a sort of neurological hiccup where something gets coded as memory (or filed along with memory data of the sort that produces memory-feel), which is why it feels that way. It’s not a big deal, though it can very briefly feel like it is in the moment it happens.
Second, I will sometimes play out possible circumstances in my head including conversations. I can imagine stressful interactions about heated subjects with people I care about, interactions that haven’t actually happened and may not need to. And in them I play out scenarios until there’s one that involves heated exchanges and I’m no longer play out scenarios so much as I’m sort of in one and I begin to genuinely feel angry and upset and to orient those emotions toward the person I’m having the imaginative argument with. It’s really silly.
That last is the one I’m least comfortable with. I can imagine – actually, I sometimes do imagine, unbidden – acts of violence happening. Sometimes done by others, sometimes by me. Things like a bus driver choking a passenger, myself sticking a key in someone’s eye. These are never desirable mental scenarios, they’re always unpleasant to be a mental witness to. I don’t this is any sense of my wanting these things to happen, it’s more I think on the one hand a response to stress and on the other a fear, a fear that something awful might happen. It’s partly a sense of fragility (my own and that of that and those I love) and of a sense of feeling threatened or vulnerable, or being aware of the continued condition of possibility of threat/vulnerability. It’s unpleasant to say the least.
Now this, this is a tune.
I was going to write about this fantastic Jawbreaker song, “Ache,” and about how I think to some extent I gravitated toward sad and angry music because I was sad angry music but how I also I think I was sad and angry because I wrote some of my emotional map via sad and angry music. I’ma do that eventually but the flip side of this is that I’m more in control. I can make the call. I’m gonna be on the brightside, silver linings and all that, because I choose to be. I made up a slogan for myself about this: “The discipline and responsibility to have a positive attitude.” I got people counting on me, after all.
This tune is part of that. It’s one of the songs I run to. It’s great.
The opening is guitar and drums building and building. The riff is restrained, muted, then open at the end. The cymbal/hi-hat comes in the next time around. The drums and the other guitar and bass come in bigger on the next time around. Build. Build. Build. Build. Guitar with effect – wah? flanger? – then the little dancey techno part. It’s pretty, it’s dark but it’s easing up. Then bam. Screaming into the riff.
The main riff on the chorus part is good, groove-oriented guitar and drum-driven music. Shouted singing. Talky restrained verses, fast shouty heavy choruses. Chorus becomes breakdown. Song picks up speed with stop-start guitars. Repeat the earlier figures but with faster drums…
Then another break in the middle that has elements of the dark electronic part but without the dancey beat and back to heavy breakdown.
I like the crowd sample in the background with the faster drumbeat and guitar riff. On headphones it feels sort of like being in a big crowd.
One aspect I’m not sure about: the ending. It ends like it’s a live recording – shouting continues after music, singer says “thank you”, there’s some crowd sounds, one of the guitars does the sort of fiddling around that guitar players do between songs. There’s a common conceit or maybe it’s just sort of what music feels like… that listening to studio-recorded-sounding music on headphones is just you and the band in an abstract space, no place at all, just you and them and no context. Maybe I’m the only one who hears music this way, I dunno. The ending seems to break that a bit. They’re not thanking me. They’re somewhere, playing to someone, the song isn’t an experience outside social space, it’s an activity that some people did and do somewhere. I don’t know anything about Brecht but someone I used to work with told me once that Brecht liked to deliberately break some theater conventions in order to try to get audiences to stop their suspension of disbelief. This guy said “Brecht wants to remind you that you’re watching a play so you’ll be pissed about what the play is about so you’ll want to go out and do something about it.” I expect that’s a bit simplistic, but maybe it’s also some of what’s going on in this song, maybe that’s part of “the new beat” that the singer is screaming for. I dunno.
Two other things on this song. One, the singer. Helluva good dancer. Love that. Two, the rock and roll elements – the “yeah!” and the “whoooo!” I like that stuff. It’s part of the fun of this song, part of the “this is made by people enjoying what they’re making” despite or in addition to all the anger that’s so clearly here. I like that a lot too.
Found some remixes, should write about them later:
I never really read The Catcher In The Rye. I mean, of course I read it, but I didn’t read it in a way that it grabbed me. Don’t get me a wrong, it’s a very good book and I appreciated it when I read it. But if I had read it when I was younger – if I had read it at the exactly right (or maybe I should say the exactly wrong) moment – I’m pretty sure I would have had a very different relationship with it. I read The Grapes of Wrath at exactly the right moment. I remember friends in high school who read it in a class I wasn’t in. They hated it. “This is the worst book ever. It’s so stupid. Here, check this out, here’s this whole chapter about a turtle crossing a road. Who cares about that? Why would anyone write a book about a turtle? And it’s so boring!” I read it at 18 or 19, while burning up with a fever of brought on by Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States (I only ever read the first half of it, I was too angry to finish), among other things, a fever which came to include my initial exposure to marxism. This was exactly the right time for me to read Grapes of Wrath (and I may be entering a second exactly right time to read it); the book grabbed me and never really let go.
This book thing is meant to be an extended metaphor, but I don’t know to make the transition, so… fuck it.
This song is Fugazi’s “long distance runner.” Fugazi’s been one of my favorite bands since I was 15 or 16. I first heard Minor Threat who I was really into then found out that the singer was in this later band and they made a point of playing cheap shows. That seemed important at the time. So did the fact that they ran their own record label and that that label tried to keep prices low.
I’m not sure if I heard Fugazi at the right time or not. The certainly grabbed and didn’t let go. I think I heard them at the right time in terms of their trappings – the cheap shows, the record label – and their sound. Fugazi expanded my musical horizons. I hadn’t heard anything that sounded like that. Parts of it were down-right ugly, but the dissonance usually resolved, and parts of it sounded beautiful, and a lot of it just sounded like chaos to me in a way that spoke to me. Through them I got into Jawbox, who I knew had done a record or records on Fugazi’s label and who soon became another of my favorite bands.
When I got into Fugazi the first record I heard was “steady diet of nothing.” I still remember what it felt like to hear “Reclamation” for the first time. It was jangly and sharp-edged, and I felt like that, and some of it was really pretty – the bass part some of the time. I had little idea what the hell they were talking about, but that worked for me. It seemed like a smart sort of something I didn’t understand, and bits jumped out at me: “decisions will now be ours!” Hell yeah. I want decisions, I want them to be mine, that works for me. The singing involved a lot of shouting, I could shout, I liked shouting. (Speaking of shouts I like, I like the shout around 2:15 in this clip.) The bass was prominent and sounded good, I play a bit of bass, I wanted to learn to play that way. I didn’t play guitar and didn’t know about the sorts of noises distorted guitars can make – scraping and harmonics and so on – so that stuff just sounded like something from another planet, in a good way.
Soon after that I got 13 songs and Repeater. I loved the break at the beginning of Waiting Room, the long pause. I also really liked the rhythmic side of the music, the muted guitar part on the verses, and the breaks. I realized much later after I’d been playing around with music for a while that I liked rhythm and percussion driven music. (I was really into the Descendents for a minute, I read something once where one of them said something like “basically we’re all percussionists, just some of us play percussion on the guitar.”)
When I heard In On The Kill Taker, I didn’t like it. Those other three records sounded a lot alike. I was deeply disappointed. At the time I was listening to bands that stretched what I expected music to sound like – Jawbox and Shudder to Think, for instance – and I didn’t like a lot of it early on, so I made a rule. I had to listen to albums three times before I made up my mind about it. By the third time through that record I wanted a fourth time. By the fourth time I really liked it. I had a similar experience with every Fugazi record since – “this is different, I don’t like it” followed by repeated listening and really liking it.
Aside from the later records growing on me, Fugazi’s music is stuff I’ve come back to repeatedly as I’ve gotten older. Other albums and bands have been like this for me. Jawbreaker, for instance. I liked their stuff in part because it was sad, and I felt sad. As I got older and had … well, more complicated emotions and experiences, I started to notice some of the content in those songs and they spoke to me in new ways. I don’t know that that’s happened with Fugazi, they’re not a band I’ve primarily connected with lyrically (compared to Jawbreaker’s 24 hour revenge therapy, which is probably my single favorite album, though I really like the music on that album too). I’ve found that Fugazi has musical staying power for me. I like the dynamics, the relative complexity given that they’re a 4 piece rock band.
This song does speak to me lyrically as well though. I’ve become a runner relatively recently. And before that I got interested in kayaking and in rock climbing. I like the being-alone part, even though kayaking and climbing are great social activities too. Actually part of what I like about them as social activities is that there’s an opportunity to be alone or to not, and there’s a strongly individual component – row, climb. Climbing especially, it’s you and the climb at a certain moment every time. Distance running’s also a metaphor for where I’m at with a few things in my life at this point. I’m not driven right now largely by reward or even, frankly, enjoyment. I do enjoy things. I especially enjoy my daughter. But I do things that I’ve committed to largely out of obligation, not for the fun of the performance of the activity. This is about discipline and commitment, which I think in part involves a commitment to commitment: I remain committed to maintaining my commitments and so I act in ways that help me preserve them. I find all of this deeply rewarding, and moments of it really fun, but from moment to moment I’m not often likely to be in a moment of great fun. It’s a life of joy much more than a life of pleasure. To put it another way, most days I feel barely-not-overwhelmed and a very anxious, most weeks I feel harried and disorganized and careening, but most months I feel very happy and most seasons I feel at peace. Distance running. If I think about lifting the foot and the next foot and the next foot for each of several thousand steps, I am less likely to run or to run as far. If I change the scope or scale of my focus, I run much farther. (Relatively recently I ran the longest time or distance I’ve ever run, about 6 miles and about an hour.) “It all boils down (…) to keep moving in front of the gravity.” Commit to keeping a commitment to motion, against gravity, and find the right pace. There’s a way in which the vocals on the closing refrain, relatively quiet, some understated harmonies, that fits with the sensation of running when it’s working well.
The opening of this post was an extended metaphor I didn’t know how to bridge, and it was also true. Long Distance Runner is the same – the lyrics are true of running, and it’s a metaphor for kinds of emotional resilience. I read no poetry and almost no literature, just song lyrics (I read a lot beyond song lyrics, I mean I read almost nothing else literary) I don’t know if this kind of thing has a name or if it happens a lot, but I love it. The body of this post and the whole point of discussing Long Distance Runner is meant the same way, as an extended metaphor which is literally true and metaphorically true. (Is that a symbol? Is that what I’m talking about?) And here too I don’t quite know how to make the transition so again, fuck it. I wonder if this too is something of a metaphor, albeit an inadvertent and perhaps unpleasant one.
This song and the attendant sensibilities where on my mind in part because I am quite simply not as excited as I would like to be and as some of my friends are about the occupation stuff that is springing up now globally. I like it. But I only like it. Some of my friends really, really like it, or love it, or REALLY LOVE IT. They are lit up by these events, lit up brightly, like by the sun. I’m lit up dimly, a flickering flashlight with dying batteries. Some of this is no doubt simply my normal response to the onset of winter and to excessive work load and insufficient rest and relaxation and recreation, and some of this is likely my response to the changed circumstances of my life as a parent and the resulting changed availability of my time and the forms in which I can contribute my time. But some of this I think is not merely personal. I have a lower assessment of these events. It seems to me that similar phenomena have happened before. I’m glad that these phenomena appear, and I know that history doesn’t repeat so much as display similarities which are simultaneously mutations, but I don’t see the same depth of novelty here. I worry that there will be more similarity than mutation, more repetition than rupture, and I feel a distressing lack of resources for how to think this – think the departure from the historical pattern, I mean; I can think the pattern and the restoration (or the lack of unraveling) of the normal order, that’s relatively easy. The lack here is personal in a sense, as in individual, me, something I want to be more able to do than I am in terms of imaginative and analytical ability, but it’s also (and its individual qualities are compounded by this) collective, in the sense of a lack of feeling of room and air. This is part of why I set up this semi-private and anonymous blog, to have more space to meander. It wasn’t intended for politics and it will not be mainly that, but I felt (and feel) the need for a place to spool out (or unspool, into a jumbled, knotted mess) some thoughts without clear ideas, and some ideas without being entirely sure of them, and without judgments about my tentative judgments. No meta. Of course lots of meta, but no meta that acts back on the process, at least not from others — no editing in the middle. Think out a line of thought and don’t prejudge the outcomes. That’s the sort of lack I feel, on my own part and collectively in the sense of a lack of room for this in a way where there is only encouragement to run further plus a picking up and running with it sensibility.
Part of my disconnect from current events is I think that I’m largely oriented toward distance running. I’m not driven to sprint for the most part, and I’m certainly not driven to sprint due to short-term results (though I did sprint to catch the bus today in order to get home earlier, so I guess that’s not wholly true). This distance runner emotional sensibility strikes me as different from that of some of my friends with regard to current events, and perhaps that the real disconnect. I could imagine (though I don’t have) a sense of current events as themselves part of distance running. I’ll have to think more on that. I’m out for now, have to sleep, in order to get up and work again.
This song’s closing refrain is “you keep fucking up my life.” Given the title and the references to writing, I like to think of this song as being about writing. The “you” addressed there is writing, or a writing project, and thus obliquely the writer engaged in that project. This speaks to me not least because I write. I write for my job and that often feels like it’s fucking up my life. I also write out of interest, occasionally, and that too often feels like it’s fucking up my life.
I write my own material in part out of habit, in part out of a discipline I’m managed to acquire after a lot of work and which, after a lot of work, I’ve only barely acquired. I’m still not where I’d like to be with writing, not least because of habits I’ve got and habits I’ve not got. I also write my own material because it scratches an itch I have, or maybe it’s a range of itches, and sometimes it’s like scratching at a fresh bug bite – the scratching makes it itch more. There are times when following this impulse means I shortchange other parts of my life – people in my life and priorities I have. I don’t know what to do with that. Writing, you keep fucking up my life.
I write for my job because it’s my job. Sometimes I can like it, temporarily, but not usually. And you, job, are definitely fucking up my life. I can’t do any of this anymore out of sheer interest. I am not currently in a phase of passionate intellectual enjoyment (I’ve been craving being in such a stage!). I’m in a phase of low interest and low energy. This means that I can’t rely on the writing beings its own reward. I have to write out of a decision and discipline.
And I have to write, my stuff because of the itch and work stuff because of the penalties if I don’t. Since I can’t do it without a decision and discipline I have to make that decision and act out that discipline. Despite the fucking up.
This is a tune by one of my favorite bands. It’s a good high energy number, lots of rocknroll guitar and hooks. They were a great band live too. This is also one of those songs that speaks to me. I know this tightly wound feeling, unfortunately. That sucks like crazy, but it also speaks to part of why music is so important to me. Music is one of the things in my life where I most feel a sense of relating to stuff… that’s not very well put. One of the times I saw this band play was during what turned out to be two year economic tailspin which was super stressful – layoffs, firings, shitty jobs and assholes bosses. I saw this band right after one of those layoffs, it might have been like on the day of the layoff I don’t remember super clearly, in the middle of all this, and they played their song “TV World,” and the singer was like “this song is about being layed off” and it was like yes, someone wrote this thing that gets at some of my experiences better than I can express it, and they put it in a setting that’s aesthetically pleasing and in a way that points out that this is a collective experience and the performance is a collective experience, like ‘yeah layoffs suck and yeah our coping strategies could be better but man, fuck, remember that one time…?’ like swapping stories and stuff. It’s this weird thing with a lot of music I listen to where musical performances are like a collective experience of a collective performance by the band about feeling isolated or alone and angry or otherwise dealing with negative stuff that’s kind of weirdly individualizing, and it’s like a way of having other people be like “I also have this sense and this experience of an unpleasant and perhaps pathological individualism, this is not actually a unique or individual thing, it’s a social thing that a lot of people experience and it’s tied to large and deep problems with society, and other people have been through this too.” That’s a powerful thing. And the tone of the music helps too, this sort of “yeah this sucks, but, whatever.” This is sad music but in the sort of make a joke about it, because what else can you do? give up? of course not.