What follows is just one perspective amongst the many that I feel about playing music. I found it easier to ride the down escalator to the bottom floor instead of trying to note that there also exists an elevator to the penthouse I ride sometimes. It’s a wild time up there, but its nice view is beyond the scope of present article, which is borne as a result of touring for six months straight and wildly oscillating between ecstatic feelings of liberty and black acknowledgments of the fundamental similarity between playing music and any other endeavor to create a space beyond the logic of capitalism that has insinuated itself into depths of my being- i.e. the compromise. This coupled with the awareness that I have to get a job TODAY. But if “the realm of freedom is established progressively by the development of human powers as an end in itself” and I am freedom rocker, then I have really no other choice but to develop my very limited powers for their own sake and not worry so much about the future and past. Despite indications to the contrary, there’s always an abandon and immediacy in music which destroys time (much like drugs) which is why I keep coming back to both. But, sitting at the computer…
“He will have burdened living reality with a parasitic growth: his interpretation.”
BEFORE THE SHOW
Before the show I have to figure out who I am and what exactly it is I’m trying to communicate. This is much too difficult, with the nauseating pace of change occurring all around me and the instant decrepitude of any definitive statement regarding being. I take my individuality for granted- “I am a person who has had experiences that have shaped me and I desire to share these experiences with others so that they may feel me to be alive and I might see that I am alive from their reaction”. I’m in a band, I have to communicate something- there will be a speaker and a stage, and people will be looking forward at me. But already we’ve got a contradiction. My individuality is a myth. I scour myself for experiences which will have some degree of relevancy, which will distinguish “my band” from ten thousand other “my bands”- the bait ball swimming in the sea of mediocrity, being leisurely consumed by the powers that structure our reality (wanting/money). But my experience as an individual tells me only that there exists something which is not me. Barely aware of what I know, the only solid ground within my consciousness is the boundary at the limits of my experience. As I exist as an individual, I am incomplete- reaching for that which transcends my individuality and mixes it with other people in a consciousness of living that is beyond the mundane variations on the capitalist theme that has created everyone’s precious life story. Plumbing the depths for that which sets me (“my band” “my art” etc) apart from others I find only a similarity- the void at the limits of my understanding of myself is not mine alone. Very good, that’s what I’ll communicate in my rock songs- “yeah yeah i’m not me you are not you lets be beyond us together in the forthcoming ritual of our wednesday night baby”. I reach confidently for my trusty guitar. But my hand slackens as I grip the neck. The orgiastic celebration of collectivity which I wish to induce is prefigured by the need to play songs. Instead of initiating a spontaneous redemption of our alienated lives, I will simply be rehearsing my group persona in public. Is my band an effigy or a jukebox? It’s both, representing an ideal which it can never hope to attain. The idea that a show enables the freeing of the burden of your personality in a wild group mosh is at best a breath held, at worst a feeble lie. The curtain draws back, and the transcendent experience appears to be an awkward gyration before the idol’s altar. There is a dirty and broken mirror tooling around the stage, refracting glimpses of themselves into the eyes of the disinterested onlookers who briefly struggle to decide if they like this experience, that of seeing themselves here for a second. I’ve got anxiety about this. How can I escape myself with you while I’m in the midst of performing myself? Are you blinking or winking?
Waiting. Drinking beer during a pause to increase the feeling of immediacy which is perpetually slipping away. Grasping desperately at the escaping moment. Look at Mark’s pants! The eager riff. The possibly feigned enthusiasm. The harrowing exchanges regarding the inconspicuous nuances of some fetishized object- guitars, records, amps etc. The awkward presence of inaudible lyrics. The briefly noted head nods. The inevitable gesture toward the merch table, with all its stifling familiarity- who’d like to participate in this world in a manner identical to the way in which they participate in the world which wants to destroy them? Money, the organizing abstraction. Dancing, the ignominious affirmation. The T shirt. The record. The object which, unable to represent the real depth of the experience, acts as its ludicrous substitute. The interim. The DIY culture clinging to the fringes of a workday finished without it. Fun, but not a joke, that’s the goal. A real fun non joke of an experience. Success.
AFTER THE SHOW
“The memory of gratification is at the origin of all thinking, and the impulse to recapture past gratification is the hidden driving power behind all thought”. It’s strange how much this subculture exists in retrospect. As banal as many shows can be (i.e. every show at a bar), they can occasionally sparkle in their retelling and whole scenes periodically re emerge (disfigured. Inauthentic?) from hazy myth into the present moment. It seems as though every band that has ever existed has reunited to perform their dimly recalled time-essence (“hi, we’re Pavement, we’re from the 90’s”) in order to get a slice of the crumbly cake. Nostalgia permeates the bedroom. It is much easier to see the meaning in music when it is set against the backdrop of a simpler (i.e. flattened by memory) time. Living bands that do not immediately draw upon a recognizable vibe or sound flail pathetically against the contexts until their wild flailing is gradually perceived as deliberate. ‘Authentic’ appreciation is conditional- a person has to know the band personally, or to to be able to situate them within a musical lineage, or to identify their politics in order to recognize them as relevant. In Olympia we know this, which is why we avoid the humiliation of self promotion and instead rely on an obscure kind of cross referencing to convey the secret knowledge of who we are to each person on their own terms as a result of their own labor. So many bands in the world. Authenticity has become the most valuable trait in the new music landscape. Unfortunately, it is meaningless. The authentic understanding of our current time involves the acknowledgment that microcosmic self awareness (a condition created by the expansion of the market into the mental realm- breaking us down into ever smaller units, to individuals with ever more specific needs to satisfy) has rendered the kind of naive performance of an unadulterated self onstage nearly impossible (those with some sort of brain damage- Roky Erikson, Daniel Johnston etc. fondly excepted). Bands in Olympia pretend to ignore this and are accurately perceived by outside sources as deliberately retro- not so much in the sound but in the notion that there is a progressive continuity with the musical scenes of the past. It’s a savage time. I try to abscond to the velvet suite with self affirming positivity tucked gently in my arms, but though I knead and poke it lustfully, it refuses to touch me back and I’m left feeling cold. Alienation creeps in under the door. I turn to my partner and goad it into protecting me “we are creative people, creating, in a safe space outside the purview of the terrible processes which abstract me infinitely from myself and others, right?” but its neck appears slack, and the nodding a result of my own tremulous hand upon it. There is no protection, least of all from a generalized yay which celebrates creativity in and for itself- on the margins, during the fifteen minute break, for the time being. How long can you sustain it? Because it will never sustain you. Someday you will have turn some form of your labor into an abstraction. And people do make money off of music after all. But the transition between art and art for profit is tenuous at best. The money you receive will never correspond to the emotion and experience you put into the creation- there will always be an overabundance of one and a lack of the other. The cup is too small. The social forms which the ‘successful’ rock musician participates in are closed. The money earning gig is no different from the cubicle- the range of possible human action is limited, and everyone knows the rules. Ego affirmation, stupors of all sorts, hints of the mystic or bizarre, qualified consumerism- all of these are encouraged. The inevitable return to work hangs overhead, and it is from this authority that the temporary license is issued. And so here I am after the show trying to figure out what happened. I thought I was being a real dreamer, following my dreams into the pit, grabbing a few wispy strands of freedom’s hair here and there. Oh but here I was in reality all along, immersed in the same symbolic existence as everyone else until suddenly I turned around and Dad was in my room! And I was like “get out of here Dad this is MY ROOM!” but he wasn’t going anywhere and just him being there reminded me of all the fucking shit I had to deal with that I was putting off.
Quotes are from Marx, Lefebvre, Marcuse, Malkmus in that order.