Wednesday, December 4, 2013 4 Comments
There’s a war between us and everyone knows but you.
Mike wrote that line in the song “Magnetic Fields,” which is one of my favorite songs to play. Doug, our manager and friend, reminded me of it last night when he posted a tweet referencing those words. That kicked off a whole series of reflections for me about what we do and why we do it and why it’s important.
Back in 2006, before I rejoined Five Eight, I ended up subbing for the magical and fantastic drummer Jeremy Wheatley from the Low Lows. He wasn’t able to get the time away from his job when the Low Lows were to be in Europe for five weeks. (You should check out the Low Lows. They are based out of Austin now. The Low Lows make gorgeous, sad music that’s influenced by equal parts Velvet Underground and Graham Parsons.) Parker from the Low Lows is a surprisingly bouyant spirit for someone who makes such lugubrious music- he sometimes jokes about it from the stage: “We’re the Low Lows. We have about two songs left, so adjust your medications accordingly.” Parker and I remain friends to this day, and we sometimes talk about music and life. Once, he said to me “Is it wrong that I feel a secret joy when people come up to me after shows and tell me I made them cry?”
Of course it isn’t. There are reasons why I think bands who write songs with a real emotional payload are important. It actually bumps up against what could be a workable definition for what makes great art.
Alice Walker wrote these lines in the poem ‘SM’:
Tears left unshed
turn to poison
in the ducts
Ask the next soldier you see
enjoying a massacre
if this is not so.
Look, it pays to not feel your feelings. We live in a world where it’s not productive to call a bank manager by the names you’d like to, or where you may face some sanctions if you start throwing furniture at work. Even in our intimate relationships, we don’t talk about our unresolved sadness about past failures or our fears about uncertain futures. We wear our mask of appropriate affect, and that’s not a bad thing. My world would be a lot less pleasant and productive if I started throwing chairs.
But we get itches underneath the mask. I have an emotional life that usually only gets off the leash when I lie awake at night or when I’m driving with the radio off. Then there are the times when I listen to music or see good films or read books. One of the things I get from music like Five Eight’s (or the Low Lows or the new Bottomless Pit album) is permission to immerse myself in it and feel my feelings. A song like “Magnetic Fields” or “Destroy This World” is an emotional landscape. Seeing a band live is especially rewarding because I can stand there in the dark and go on a journey as I watch them do the same. Live, it’s personal and real. I think this is the reason so many people are offended by lip-syncing and pre-recorded tracks. We’re on this trip together. It seems somehow less authentic if the performer isn’t taking the same risks as the audience by being spontaneous and ‘in the moment.’
Bruce Springsteen once famously said “The audience and the artist are valuable to one another as long as you can look out there and see yourself, and they look back and see themselves.” To me, this is what makes bands good or even great. I can see the mirror of my own sometimes messy emotional life in Mike’s lyrics, or Parker’s, or Joshua Hensley’s (from The Rutabega- more on them in the future. For now, check this out: The Rutabega).
This empathic moment where we connect with a performer is a moment where we can allow ourselves to open the tap on our emotions, so we can stand there in the dark at the 40 Watt and feel elation or sadness or whatever, and just let go for a minute. It’s also why people with a more nuanced emotional life reject shitty art. (I’m guessing that you, like me, are not connecting with Limp Bizkit even for a second.) This is why I think Five Eight has such loyal fans. Mike writes the truth about his life, and in doing so, the truth about mine and maybe yours. Spending some time at a show or in headphones or on your car stereo with those songs is a way to dig into those emotions and live that emotional life.
The first line of that Alice Walker poem, by the way, is
I tell you, Chickadee
I am afraid of people
who cannot cry
I do not trust people who do not have music in their lives. In ‘The Merchant of Venice,’ Lorenzo says “The man that hath no music in himself, Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds, Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils; The motions of his spirit are dull as night, And his affections dark as Erebus. Let no such man be trusted. Mark the music.”
p.s.- here is video of the Low Lows in Paris:
Here is a link to the tour diary I kept of that tour: