< the real reason trick-or-treating induces tension headaches in people age 40+
I am listening to Harry Nilsson’s “Without You.” It’s come to my attention, traipsing through his discography, that he has written some of the most ridiculed songs of the last seventy-five years. He is a classic case of the name you’ve (meaning the sub-thirty ‘you’ of today) forgotten but the song, the album, the feeling and mood, that you know. You know where these songs fit and what they’re for. Suddenly you realize that a particular spattering of thought or sentiment was always already connected and of one body. And it’s also my realization, as the songs keep going on, and this comes with an embarrassing but benign skull-skin-squeezing chill, that I know nothing close to a lick about the original context for his music—what chorus and verse would have been, stripped of bad rom-com, fast-food advertisement jingle, mix-tape gifted from teen to oily teen in bad (but culturally classic) movie or ‘film’: the accumulated detritus, flotsam, or accretion disk of the last many multiples of my lifetime. And, while this settles the mind about the usefulness and enduring qualities of art, in another way it is totally chilling & terrifying to me & should be to you (same demographic as above) because this process is not the elevation and preservation of some object’s original mission or intent—the art does not float away and untainted—but its dirty smear, its being unwillingly dragged, across the cultural landscape of decades. And so, is the real point, while I can enjoy these songs alone in and in the throes of decidedly unsexy executive dysfunction on a Sunday night in late September, I cannot divorce this moment, not entirely anyway, from the diffuse noise of swim-meets when I was a pre-teen, or the car radio on the way to school, the high-school homecoming gymnasium tittering with Moms, the roller rink at which I was pitifully alone and un-danced-with at age twelve, the countless imitations of imitations of this poor man’s catchy music by generation after nose-thumbing generation, to whom this stuff has meant a million, personally constructed interior philosophies. It is noise. But it is more importantly noise subject to noise and decidedly postmodern*: the shadow of digital gunk and screwy philosophy championed and decided and gelled, as we all sort of feared it might have been, primarily courtesy of ‘cool’ middle-school teachers & next-door neighbors during one-off dinner parties & all those small, fleeting, decidedly uncool and (mostly) unsuccessful attempts at community building people have nevertheless been trying hard at since the late 80s, I guess, when the influx of media coverage of serial killers put us all in a locked-up American yearning. Or so they say.
Really I set out trying to write something about how I felt today, briefly, that reading can actually reanimate the author and made me feel full in the way talking to someone who’s easy to talk to can make one feel. About reading as true conversation. But now I’m listening to John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” & it’s too late & I’ve failed.
* It’s not all fun extracted from bending known literary rules like our parents said but, at least when I use the term, a huge messiness and hopelessness laden with fear and diffusive tendencies that nevertheless is immutable and makes the heart beat because (1) there is no way out but also (2) what a place to be.