Sunday, September 09, 2007

Navel Gazing

Although this website is primarily concerned with political and community issues, it has also served as my personal blog. I usually warn my broader audience when a post has nothing to do with politics or Bexley.

This is one of those posts. Feel free to move along.

Under the Rocks and Stones


It's not as if I'm middle-aged. I'm in my mid 30's, and given the retardation of development during my twenties, I'm even a somewhat undercooked 36. But on the recent occasion of hearing "Once in a Lifetime" by the Talking Heads, I found myself intensely reactive to the piece. It's not simply the lyrics, but the lyrics are what grab:

And you may find yourself

In a beautiful house

With a beautiful wife

And you may ask yourself:

Well, how did I get here?



Letting the days go by.

Letting the water hold me down.


I've always wondered whether or not artists that write and/or record songs about birthdays and anniversaries, holidays and Fridays, are banking on a lifetime of royalty income. Everyone has birthdays. Christmas happens every year, to everybody in Western Civilization, like it or not. "Pet Sounds" may be one of the most critically celebrated recordings of the 20th Century, but I'll bet you a dollar that the next time I hear "Run, Run, Rudolph" comes sooner than the next time I hear "God Only Knows" or "Sloop John B." So I can't help but wonder if David Byrne and Brian Eno had it in the back of their heads that a significant proportion of their listeners would, in fact, find themselves in the midst of completely inexplicable domestic beauty at some point, and would furthermore fail to merely accept the situation. That the existential dilemma plays out in entirely predictable ways for the middle class white kids who dig art-punk music.

Regardless of whether or not the reach of the song was calculated in any way, I'm now in that proportion. I'm here, and I'm not sure how or why. What's worse, I look to the song for analogical assistance, and it only makes things worse. The last two lines I quote above, from the chorus, do they describe the "how" in the last line of the verse, or the "here?" The distinction is crucial. Have I arrived here, at what is essentially a very successful intermediate outcome, by letting the days go by, by going with the invisible envelope of flows? Or have I just now completely lost momentum and control, lulled through momentary comfort into a complacency that renders me powerless against time and tide?

You may ask yourself, well, how did I get so melodramatic? That one's easy, listening to the post-punk music channels aimed squarely at my demographic. You see, now that I have a beautiful house and a beautiful wife, I'm worth marketing to, so I get digital music tailored to my tastes. And though I can certainly listen to bands like The Killers and The Rapture and Shiny Toy Guns, I generally don't. I listen to the music I listened to from ages 14-22, when everything mattered. The juxtaposition of music from my overwrought adolescence with my current generic adulthood, however, creates additional meaning that wouldn't exist otherwise. When I was 20, rock musician seemed like a pretty good career. Not a realistic career choice, I recognized that, but nice work if you could get it. But now, at that ripe old age of 36, I understand things I certainly didn't understand back then. If I'm David Byrne, or Tina Weymouth, or whatever, would I want to be 50 and be introduced as "a Talking Head?" Bands are projects, bands are brands. Talking Head is a gig, not a career. Unfortunately, however, if I'm David Byrne, or even moreso, if I'm Tina Weymouth, it's even worse when I'm 50 and being introduced as "a former Talking Head..." How did I get here???

So David Byrne became Barnum to Peter Gabriel's Bailey in barking for World Music, and Jerry Harrison went on to produce a bunch of records, and Tina and Chris Frantz are living happily ever after as far as I know (and don't tell me if I'm wrong). They knew how they got there. They stopped. They went somewhere else. Twenty years later, I'm here. I'm doing a job I never planned on doing, and my response to my unhappiness there is not to look for something else to do, but someone else to do it for (letting the water...), and a better motivation to do it. I love my beautiful wife, and I'm quite attached to my beautiful house. Am I right? Am I wrong? My God, what have I done?

My old blog was called The Inactivist. The name was meant to convey that although doing something was better than talking about doing something, perhaps talking about not doing anything was marginally better than simply not doing anything. Writing about the river doesn't stop it from running, but commiting your days to text is not equivalent to letting them go by. So same, I guess, as it ever was.

3 comments:

Extrovert said...

Probably better that you focused on that tune rather than some of the more antisocial titles from the group such as "Burning Down the House" or "Psycho Killer". Right?

Trivia question: what classic 1980s comedy features the former of the songs that I just named?

First to answer correctly wins a free 10 visit 2007 family pass to the Bexley pool.

joe peffer said...

Bonobo-Isn't your day job in statistics? You have a gift for writing, I loved this post. (perhaps because I'm just a little bit closer to the middle age cusp of which you speak yet relate squarely to your early 80s post-punkalyptic music).

You must have kept a journal in your overwrought adolescence. Nice to see something that veers off the political track on BB.

bonobo said...

Joe, yes, my day job is doing stats for a Research Center at OSU (yes, I'm a nerd, but I won't be seeking revenge upon those who offer up expired passes as prizes).

Anyway, thanks for the complimentary words about my writing. Believe it or not, my original undergrad major was Creative Writing. I really wanted to understand how people processed words, so I ended up doing cognitive psychology/neuroscience. You have to pick up quite a bit of stats knowledge to do that kind of research, and now here I am, doing stats completely divorced from words.

And btw, I've never heard/seen "post-punkalyptic." I like.