Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Why Don't You Take A Flying Fuck At The Moooooooooooon?

So, there's been one unforeseen benefit to the birth of the baby: my roommates aren't cooking right now. And this is a good thing because as lovely a pair of people as they are, they're pretty gross about keeping the kitchen clean. They mess up every dish in the house, and then leave them sitting in the sink for days on end getting crusy and gross. I mean, I'm not so big on housework myself, and lord knows back in my college days my boyfriend and I could leave a disgusting pile of dishes around. But these days, for the most part, if I slop up a pot it's going to be clean within twelve hours at the most.

Anyway, the roomies/new parents have been too tired to cook, so they've been getting take out every night, and so the kitchen stays relatively clean. And that means I get a chance to cook a little bit. Normally I just don't bother; I want to spend as little time in that disgusting kitchen as possible. And while I haven't attempted anything ambitious while I've had it to myself, at least I'm getting a week or so of real food out of the deal. And it's a nice fucking change of pace, because since I moved into this house most of my home-based meals have been non-nutritious junk that just fills the void until my lunch break, when I might be able to get something better downtown.

I'm not saying this is a good arrangement -- in fact, I'm saying the opposite. It sucks. But it's what I'm working with.

My brain, on the other hand, is eating very well. I'm on a full-scale Vonnegut kick now, and even his "bad" stuff is better than 90% of everything else I've ever read. I already said this in a previous comment, but his way of joining his utter despair for mankind's prospects with a kind of silly, joyful optimism makes for some of the most beautiful prose I've ever read. I am amazed and so glad I finally came back around to him.

In a week or so my friend Rick and I are going to the Okkervil River show, since I swore I wouldn't miss another band I love after I missed seeing Beirut play a few months ago. I've spent most of today listening to their new album, and I'm very satisfied. Browsing around this evening I ran across Will Sheff's music writing, and found this essay he wrote about Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea:

It all sounds ridiculous, but it's dead-serious and indescribably moving, because actually Mangum is singing about the horror and beauty in the world, and about transcending that horror by allowing that beauty to annihilate you. He's singing about love, but much bigger than love between a boy and a girl; he's singing about loving the world that surrounds you and even loving those who try, and succeed, to destroy you...

Everyone I know who has this record treasures it. It has helped my friends sunk in depression, I've been to weddings where selections have been used as the first dance, I know people who want it played at their funerals. And I understand why Mangum, emphatically humble and self-effacing, must be terrified by the level of devotion this little collection of songs inspires, but I also understand that devotion. In a world that constantly seems crass and cheap and mean, where cynicism is the dominant philosophy and sarcasm the dominant conduct, where what matters most is showing off what you can buy, where the most popular television programs encourage us to laugh at ordinary people willingly allowing themselves to be publicly frightened and humiliated for money, this record shows you the world trembling with beauty, transparent, enveloping, able to be redeemed or destroyed by how much love you bring to it, and, ultimately, holy.

That's exactly what I hear in that album, and the fact that Sheff can write about it so clearly is obviously connected to the reasons why I like his own songs so much. That his new album is itself about music, or at least about musicians, makes it satisfyingly meta -- is Sheff talking about himself, or just about everyone else? I'm looking forward more than I can say to seeing this stuff performed onstage.

The one conversation I regret never having had with my recent rationality-driven friend is rooted in this: is music rational? There's a definite element of rationality in it, unquestionably -- on some level, music is all mathematics, and it's hard to be much more rational than that. And yet, it affects us so irrationally, and inspires so much raw emotion. My friend loved music, and introduced me to several of my now-favorite artists. But I know for that for myself, it's music's direct, visceral appeal to irrationality, to pure emotion that isn't necessary connected to anything in the real world, and its ability to liberate at least part of my mind from its normal constraints and structures, that makes it so necessary, and drives me to spend so much of my time under its influence.

Music is the one thing in this life I don't think I'll ever understand. It has never made sense to me how simple rhythmic sound inspires ecstasy in the human brain. And not only how, but why -- the evolutionary arguments about social cohesion and the rest make sense, I suppose, but they leave me unconvinced and unsatisfied. Our response to music is so much bigger than any utilitarian function it might perform. Music, which wraps its irrationality in the structures of pure math, rebuffs any attempt to rationalize its existence.

Didn't Vonnegut say something about that? "The only proof he needed of god's existence was music," written on an atheist's gravestone. I don't know if I'd go quite that far, but it's probably the only argument that might give me pause.
1:04 AM ::
Amy :: permalink
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