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“On Rock Music and the Ideal of Oblivion”

Driving home from the library earlier, I started thinking about the song “Into the Woods,” which is on My Morning Jacket’s breakout album from 2005, Z. I was thinking, What a stupid song. Jim James sings “A good showerhead / And my right hand / Are the two best lovers / That I ever had / Now if you find you agree / With what I just said / You better find you a love / And let ’em into your head”. 

And it is stupid, semantically. It sort of replaces, that is, “true love,” with “good sex,” on the ideal of humanity wheel, so to speak. It’s like if Crosby, Stills and Nash were to insert a part into the middle of “Love the One You’re with” about, like, “Then stick a finger real hard into her twat” or “Then cup his balls” [1]. 

But this is a bona fide discourse. This is a discourse that any, logically thinking, sociologically seasoned person could perfectly well subscibe to, young, or old, or even older to the extent of thinking rock and roll is “new-fangled” and Woodstock to be “a bunch of kids running around naked,” as it were. Happiness is, or should be, more reliant on wholesome things like friendship, passion, respect and loyalty, than reductive physical achievements or any sort. 

One thing against which I am juxtaposing this perspective of the MMJ song, though, and which will probably strike a lot of people more familiarly, is the idea that rock music is, itself, antiquated, or culturally irrelevant. Today, it seems, this is likely to be the view of young people, or at least people under 40 [2]. They all have something in common, I think, which is that they’ve lost the sense of how music should induce a state of oblivion, for maximal results. Actually, music should in a sense make you weak, or more vulnerable to outside degradation. It is when it’s at its best effectively an escape from everyday life, from the rat-race realities we all face in capitalism and from the necessary constant vigilance against your brother turning into your adversary. The alternative would be, of course, a life without music, where you go through life using nothing but a logical brain and hence, in a sense, worship financial gain and carnal achievement (in which case you’d probably find the My Morning Jacket song to have some value, though probably not musical value) [3]. 

On their 2010 LP American Slang, which probably embodies the must succinct, catchy and generally poignant music of their career, The Gaslight Anthem have a song in which one of the lyrics is “The cool is dead”. Now, whatever he means by that, for one, it’s gripping in a way for its confluence of never, at least to my knowledge, have been articulated before by anyone else in rock, and two, for the gripping finality of it all. It’s certainly at least tempting, then, to attach this idea, or Bohemian proclamation, de facto, to the burgeoning phenomenon of people thinking rock and roll is lame, or the Beatles are lame [5] [6]. 

So “the Beatles” are like “the cool,” in other words. And maybe it makes logical sense that they’d both culturally die, if “the cool,” again, is something that lulls, hypnotizes, like the last Beans album All Together Now [7], like Z, an album I used to love [8], something that makes you weak and “lets your guard down,” so to speak. 

We’re witnessing a crowning, culturally, of the logical. I have a harder time than ever making tongue-in-cheek statements and not having them taken at face value. We’re living in a time where there are people who no longer see the sense in being “nice” — they consider it an antiquated term. Now, even our friends the Christians would agree that that’s an almost unthinkable tragedy, in addition to obviously being a bona fide human hazard on a logical level. We live in an age when people would listen to “Into the Woods” and think it was stupid — would think, this white man can’t talk about sex, it’s creepy if he does it [9], he’s talking about getting off from a showerhead, blah-be-de-blah, that’s gross. Actually, even in the hey day of Pitchfork and the ephemeral cultural relevance of indie rock [10], people thought that, and I’m the only person I’ve ever met who liked this song and didn’t think it was “weird.” But today I thought it was stupid. Something is happening and I don’t want to know if I want to know what it is. Maybe I’m waking up. 

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[1] Amusingly, Frank Zappa made what seems like a pretty regular habit of mocking these “sexperts” who would insist that increased sensual pleasure were so necessary for happiness, with songs like “Keep it Greasy”: “If she find a good man and let him go / Chances are she might not never find one no more / So she’ll keep it greasy / So it’ll go down easy”. 

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[2] In an interesting phenomenon, as we’re now pretty much at a point where nobody still in the workforce is “too old for rock and roll,” we exactly now find minds therein who might plausibly be too young to appreicate it for what it intrinsically is.

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[3] You have to like rock and roll in the old sense — the psychedelic, the hypnotic, the oblivion-inducing, to appreciate this album musically, without any question. 

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[4] Sure we’ve had grim statements like Nine Inch Nails uttering “God is dead” and Nirvana… well… saying anything Nirvana is likely to say in a given song, but implicit in these missives always seemed to be an understood adhesion to a sense of “cool” that undergirded the entire project and the entire genre on which said statements were based. It was, theoretically, to be short, music black people could dig too, but maybe not black people growing up today, I guess. 

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[5] The Beatles were nothing if not hypnotic and oblivion-inducing, in this way like psychedelia, and also in this way like a little kid’s nursery rhyme meant to lull him or her to sleep. I mean, what is “Octopus’s Garden” if not exotic and juvenile? 

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[6] I’m probably not the expert on these cases but there are more and more people out there today, it seems, who make fun of the Beatles for being “old” or “lame” — it’s a day I never envisioned happening our sociological world; I just always thought people would recognize the Beatles as a band that has had three songs become major TV sitcom theme songs, has been covered by artists white and black, the world over, in and out of churches (check Wilson Pickett’s cover of “Hey Jude”; Dionne Farris’ of “Blackbird” and the general entity of “Let it Be,” a Paul McCartney song I’ve legitimately heard performed in a black church on the west side of South Bend, Indiana). One common thread I’ve observed in them is that they’re virile, sexually active and extroverted men (it would be hard to imagine a woman being so carnally ambitious as to actually discard such a perennially classic entity as the Beatles for the sake of her own sexual advancement, or to NEED to, in other words).

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[7] On this, too, you’ll kindly note the non-coincidental titular reference to a Beatles song (albeit a shi**y Beatles song).

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[8] I mean I guess I still love it — that part of my brain that used to love this album, nay, worship it, is still there, but seems like it’s being eaten on by my own vultures of ambition, or my own vultures of defense mechanisms against ambition, or something thereabouts. But I don’t feel more able to love other music than Z. If I completely stop loving Z, I’ll be completely incapable of loving music at large, even if “Gideon” is a complete ripoff of U2’s “One Tree Hill.” 

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[9] I’m not sure if they’re just conveniently forgetting that Frank Ocean seems to mention condoms in every single song, or what the deal is. 

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[10] I realize I’m hazarding a slight misnomer here as My Morning Jacket technically isn’t indie since they’re on a major label, but they’re style is part and parcel with the zeitgeist in my mind and they probably got a lot of industry help from their “folksy,” Willie Nelson coddling sugar daddies, with whom I have no desire to associate. 

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