IT TAKES TWO WHEN IT USED TO TAKE ONE
“Did I Listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?” – Rob Gordon
So, what came first, the chicken or the egg? The bass line or the flat line? Who can say for sure? One thing for certain is that Rock & Roll and love and all matters of the heart are forever intertwined. Just listen to a song. ANY song. Is being in love Rock & Roll? Fuck yea it is. Rock & Roll IS love and I love Rock & Roll.
I write this watching my lady friend sleep and wonder where it all leads to. Where is all of this, this she with me and me with her business, where is it going and what is it all worth? And how does music play a role in what happens? Does it play a role? For me it does, a leading role. Music is now, and always has been, the soundtrack to my life. It’s the friend I could always rely on. The blanket when I was cold. The high when I was down. Currently, I am listening to Mumford & Sons and keep throwing “White Blank Page” on repeat. I’m not sure why.
Love is an odd thing and you never know when it’s gonnna hit you. At times you hope that it never does and that’s usually when it does. Right after you’ve checked out. You’ve signed off and sworn yourself to a life of solitude, internet porn and an embarrassing array of lubricants. And then BAM! There appears someone to fuck with your head and your heart. Now, I have had the good fortune of having been in love with some amazing women. I’ve also been in love with some real…well, let’s just say it’s the word all women hate hearing. I don’t know what that says about me that I am __ and remain unmarried. Either I am a genius, a cad, an idiot or some combination of all. I have no regrets and, at the risk of sounding cold, they’ve all served their purpose. For the vast majority of them that purpose was to help shape the man I am now and the way I interact with my lady friend now, and that is mostly for the better. A good lady will shape your behavior the way a good song will shape your thinking.
But the music…the music! Why is it that when I listen to “Two” or “Halloween Head” by Ryan Adams it takes me back to my previous life with my current lady friend. And “Could You Be The One” by Stereophonics, takes me to that place when she came back into my life. I mean those songs take me to the moments. It’s the songs that open the flood gates to memory and emotions, but why? What makes Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks” and the song “If You See Her Say Hello” so gut wrenching? Why is “The Last Goodbye” by Jeff Buckley the greatest break-up song EVER? Is it the music and artistry of the songs? Well, yes, of course. But it’s more, isn’t it? It’s that intangible quality that allows these songs to speak to us on some universal level that puts the listener in the song. It’s that intangible quality about the song that infiltrates the brain and let’s us say “Oh yea, I am not alone anymore.” I defy anyone to not take a deep breath and think of a lost love as Buckley sings:
This is our last good bye
I hate to feel the love between us die
But it’s over
Just hear this and then I’ll go
You gave me more to live for
More than you’ll ever know
Just writing it, my mind moves in reverse and I see the faces of all the heartaches. Oh sure, the relationships all ended for a reason and the reasons were all good (I think), but it doesn’t lessen the impact of the pain I felt when they ended. How does that happen? How do songwriters nail that? They struggle, that’s how. And where did it go?
Where are the artists today providing us with this type of perspective? This type of feeling? The ability to shoot right into our consciousness and let us know we are not alone? Oh, I have to believe they exist. There has to be someone, somewhere who can write with that raw, arrow to the heart quality. Jeff Tweedy and Ryan Adams immediately come to mind. But what about the guy or girl, let us not exclude our female brethren (“Silver Springs” STILL jabs me in the heart every time I hear it) who are singing their guts and hearts out? They don’t have the exposure? Is it as simple as that? It can’t be, can it? Perhaps if they wore outrageous outfits or something? Would that help get them recognized? I dunno, I am just saying. I have to believe they are out there because I believe in art and music the way I believe in love.
But let’s talk about Tweedy and Adams for a second. Their lyrics hit us cuz they write for every man because they ARE everyman. Is the younger generation afraid to tap into that part of themselves? Are they afraid they’ll loose their cool factor if they admit they have real feelings? Ray Lamontagne has done it, but then he is not really cool is he? Isn’t it cooler to have your ironic mustache, your ironic mullet, your skinny jeans and wear your ironic Genesis “Mama” Tour T-shirt and sing…and sing…and sing of what? What are these people singing about? What the FUCK do they have to say…about anygod damn thing? I like Spoon, but I’ve no idea what their lyrics mean and by admission I have not tried too hard to read them. None of their songs have ever grabbed me by the gonads and said “Hold the phone and listen to THIS!” Same with Arcade Fire. I mean, sure it’s OK music, but where is the passion. Everything sounds the same. Yes yes, the music changes. Yes, the beat is different. Yes, the lyrics are different, but what are they saying?! Why can’t I find anything I can recognize in these songs? Because there is nothing there. The word is vacuous. Where is the sound of the struggle? ANY band that has had any longevity in the recording industry has struggled to get there, struggled to stay there and struggled with the growth of their artistry. And as a fan, what more could be exciting than watching you favorite band grow? Nothing. And can’t the same be said of any relationship worth having? You struggle to get there, you struggle to stay there and you struggle to grow…but you struggle together. And you’re doing it by choice.
If you date a certain type of girl exclusively aren’t you limiting yourself to what else is out there? If a band plays the same type of music and the same song, aren’t they limiting themselves? If you’ve never dated or worked on a relationship, how do you know when it works, when it clicks? If you only do one thing the same way over and over, isn’t that boring? Oh sure, you may out grow your girl, that’s a risk, but there will be no escaping the memories you’ve had together. And you may outgrow your favorite band, but you will always have those memories. The memories that are tied to the songs. I’m talking to you R.E.M. You struggle to find a way to make things work with your significant other the way your favorite bands struggle to find a sound and method of artistic expression that suits them. And when it works, the artist breaks. And when it works, the relationship works.
But what if there is not struggle? What if it’s great out of the gate? What if you meet someone and you know this is “the one”? And you’re 19? What are the odds of success and longevity? What if a band has a huge first single and there is no struggle for the band? What if they have the connections and money out of the gate to be successful? Where is the struggle knowing you have a trust fund or connections to fall back on? Where is the struggle in knowing you will never have to struggle? When it’s a do or die situation and music and each other is all you have, it has to happen. When it’s a do or die situation and your heart is all you have, it has to happen. If you always know you have a nest to fall into every time, how can there be a struggle? I’m talking to you Vampire Weekend.
“But Keith, I like Vampire Weekend!” No, you don’t. You like a couple of songs. I like a couple of Brittney Spears songs, she’s a no talent hack. So what? Two good songs do not make an artist. So, shut the fuck up.
Much like any form of artistry, love is a fucking struggle. Falling in love and being in love is the easiest part, it’s the rest of the bullshit that gives birth to the songs that make us feel as though razor blades are moving through our arteries. It’s the rest of the bullshit that makes us skip over songs on the way to work because it’s too damn early to cry. It’s the rest of the bullshit that creates the songs that stop us dead in our tracks and feel as though our soul has left us. If an artist doesn’t struggle, how will they know how to articulate it? That’s not to say people of means can’t or don’t suffer. I am sure they do, it’s just different. If they’ve always had it, they don’t know what it’s like to not have it.
Imagine a world where Robert Zimmerman had opted to stay in Hibbing, Minnesota and…well, do whatever one does there to make a living? Imagine if John Lennon actually was an amazing graphic designer and chose that path instead of partnering with his three mates? Imagine a world where Ryan Adams didn’t drop out of high school to join a silly punk rock band. I’d rather not, thank you. I would, however, like to imagine a world where all the shitty bands, trust fund or otherwise, I’m talking to you Grizzly Bear, go away and we can give rise to new and worthwhile artists and we can get rid of the Vampire Weekend’s and all the other blood sucking shitty bands. Let them go back to the Windsor Knot Country Club to sip their chardonnay, crack their lobster and fuck their cousins.
Is being in love Rock & Roll? I say Fuck YEA it is. Being in love IS Rock & Roll because you can’t have one without the other.
So, I watch my lady friend sleep and I wonder how to convey to her my fears. How to tell her what I feel? How do I take the risk that she feels the same? How do I ask forgiveness for my shortcomings? How do I find comfort in our differences? Lately, there seem to be so many. My struggles are not her struggles, but I want them to be. Isn’t that what it’s all about? Struggling together? Maybe that’s not fair. This is my life, not hers. How can I tell her I love her, but I fear it all so much? How can I tell her to hold on, things pass, it comes and goes. How can I make her believe that? I know there is a song out there somewhere. Someone much more gifted than I has more than likely conveyed what it is what I want to say. In the meantime, a simple whisper of “I love you” will have to suffice. And I’ll pray she hears it. And hope she sees and dreams it the way I do.
Yes, and I feel too young to hold on
I’m much too old to break free and run
Too deaf, dumb, and blind
To see the damage I’ve done
Sweet lover, you should’ve come over
Oh, love, well I’ll wait for you
Lover, you should’ve come over
Cause it’s not too late.
-”Lover, You Should’ve Come Over”