Hi Wing Nuts!
They sure don't make pot like they used to.
Pot is about 20 times stronger than when I was in college. And back then it was like mushrooms. That's why I stopped smoking it--I didn't want to fucking hallucinate, I just wanted to get high.
It's funny that capitalism's best mechanism--the competition to constantly produce a more effective product at the lowest possible price--would be working most purely on the black market. I mean, look at gasoline. Has gasoline gotten 20 times more efficient in the past 10 years?
I never get high but last night my buddy J. smoked me out in his basement, which is a chaotic museum of Minneapolis rock history, and we watched a bunch of rare video footage of a few special bands: The Replacements, the Only Ones, the Raspberries.
J. has been trying to convince me for three years about the The Only Ones. I could never get over the singer's voice, though--it ruined it for me.
But last night, J. turned out the lights and sat me down real close to the TV and turned on this video and just sat back and crossed his fingers.
The tape started--it was the Only Ones performing live on TV in 1977 or something. The lead singer had this face, this girlish, lovely young face, and he sang words that expressed his heart--singing about feeling low. Not in a depression-is-so-fucking-rock way, just really straightforward.
After about 30 seconds I turned to J. in the dark and said, "OK, I get it."
He raised his fists and said, "My work is done!"
I recognized immediately that this delicate androgynous singer-boy had a magnetic emotional core every bit as deep as any superstar you could name, and deeper than many.
The guitarist was way too good and his solos featured flashy metallic riffage that said, we're not punks, we're not cool, we're trying to play really good.
They were the right combination of fucked-up punk aesthetics and hard-core musicianship.
I understood, too, that the singer's wandering, woozy vocal style is not affected. That's just how he sings.
And then I finally got the Replacements in a whole new way.
J. is really old friends with Paul Westerberg and the "Mats" and he said they all loved the Only Ones back in the day. They used to go to their friend Peter's apartment on Garfield and he would make them listen to records, and the Only Ones were their heroes.
The lineage from the Only Ones to the Replacements, far as I can tell, has to do with the need to express childhood damage and more adult pain in the most honest terms possible. Both these songwriters (Peter Perrett and Paul Westerberg) have a reverence for sadness and its lessons. It is their muse. I guess this is also why I see a lineage from the Only Ones to the Replacements to Nirvana. (Separate from sonics and visual aesthetics, even.)
I think sadness is a great muse. But it's also a dangerous one: It's tough to rock about sadness without being annoying as fuck.
Sadness is the soul of all good music. But maybe "sadness" isn't even the right word for it. I wish we had more words, like the French, for subtle, in-between feelings: the quality that makes a piece of music more than just a bunch of sound, but that gives it emotional texture. Music can't really be happy without a foundation, however buried, of grief. Take the the most ridiculously "happy" song you can--say, "Celebration" by Kool and the Gang. It's a whole song about not feeling shitty. It really means nothing without the context of feeling shitty. I remember when that song came out. It was hard times.
(Then of course there was Earth, Wind and Fire, whose "September" is a really perfect melange of joy and melancholy.)
Every really good song, ever, no matter how lightweight, evokes in me a heady and demanding mix of pleasure and grief. Even Madonna's "Holiday" is sad, because it's a kind of a world-peace fantasy. Even a song like the Archies' "Sugar Sugar" makes me melancholy, because it reminds me of the dream of the groovy, magic, perfect crush, which has never worked out for me. Every good song reminds me how starved I am for union with others, with Love, with the All. I feel so far from that in daily life, and every time I hear a good song it feels like a window to that experience. It makes it seem possible, if only on a musical plane.
That longing not to be alone--that's what I'm talking about when I say "sadness." I just don't know a better word for it. Do you have one?
Music connects me, for a minute, to the Whole Big Thing. And also reminds me how unconnected we all are most times. That's why it's so thrilling, and so painful, at the same time. I guess this is the central defining quality of human experience: we all long for connection, we all grieve for the union we kind of intuitively know about, and maybe knew before we were born. When we are born and become individuated beings, we suffer.
I believe that we are actually all one big mush, all of Creation, and that the idea of individuation is a temporarily useful concept that will one day be outmoded by something closer to our actual experience. A conceptual model for existence that won't necessarily alleviate cosmic loneliness, but will at least explain it. Just explain why everyone's so fucking lonely.
I wouldn't want the loneliness to ever go away completely, because then we would have no music.
This sort of birthright-loneliness, or sadness, is not a wholly bad thing. It is something much subtler, richer, and nobler than it gets credit for. When people treat it with appropriate attentiveness, they make great music. (Ray Davies is my very favorite of all time for this. His song "Days" proves that joy and grief are part of one thing.)
The worst crime of all the fake-grunge wannabe Kurts was that they didn't have any real respect for sadness. They didn't take the time to understand it, to see that it's not just a heavy, angry, complainy thing. As Ray Davies knows, it is also a light and prismatic crystal that produces dancing rainbows.
It's just too bad we suffer so.
Like the Backstreet Boys sang, sadness is beautiful, loneliness is tragical. Ain't it the truth?