Saturday, June 28, 2008

from interviews with my friend the rock star (II)

(Lyrics to part of 'Mood Swing Addict' by The Four Sqaures)
I’m a mood swing addict / smoke ‘em if you got ‘em / I’m a born modulator / got my foot on the pedal / I’m a mood swing addict / smoke my brains when I gottta / I’m a real vacillator / strung out with indecision / I’ll sleep and see you later / I wanna run on the ocean / I’m a mood swinger / mood swung at a mood swing / a mood swing / a mood / I lost me I found me I lost me I found me I…am…lost…

Sure. I get fan mail. I don’t look at it. They cart it off somewhere so I don’t have to deal with it. Why? Let me tell you about it. So, I think this is about six or seven years ago, when we first started getting really popular and things were starting to get exciting for me. I would sift through these letters and skim them. It was kind of exhilarating back then, kind of filled me with this strange short-lived kind of exuberance, to get all of these letters from fans, from people I didn’t know who enjoyed my music enough to write a letter to me. One day I get a letter from this kid, I don’t know, about thirteen or fourteen years old. You know, and he’s at about that age when things are starting to really change and get screwed up and you don’t know what the hell the world is and what you are and it’s all just a confused mess. He’s one of those depressed types, losers I guess, geeks, whatever, the kids that huddle in corners where nobody notices them. And he somehow got a hold of one of our albums, and he starts listening to it all the time. And I think the kid’s got real serious issues, like he’s manic depressive or starting to become schizophrenic, just in the really early stages, you know? So he listens to this album all the time. It was Sutpen’s Hundred. The one with Mood Swing Addict on it. In this letter the kid starts telling me how this song has like got him through a real hard time in his life. He was real suicidal, hell-bent on some kind of felo-de-se, and every time he got real bad he’d just lie in bed and listen to this song Mood Swing Addict over and over. I guess he felt some kind of connection there with what was going on in the music. You know that song, I thought it up real fast when I was in the shower one morning. I sing a lot in the shower and I actually get quite a lot of good songs out of it. The tunes just come to me out of the steam and hot water. Anyway, the thing just kind of spirited itself around and it was all done in a matter of a few hours. That doesn’t happen very often. Where a song comes out already full formed from beginning to end like that. It was a really curious thing, but I try not to think about stuff like that too much. It ruins the whole feel of the thing, the essence of it becomes stale and lost if you fuck around with it too much. But you know, the song is really this perfect example of form fitting function. It starts out with these great power chords that hook you in, kind of like a catchy pop song, and my vocals are crisp and clear and melodic, kind of chanting-like too, and then goes into this dark and wonderful disharmonious jangle, and my voice drops down to an alto, and the drums slow and start plodding. Things become chaotic and muddled for a while. Then it starts to build back up again, the drums now kind of like a march pushing forward faster and faster, and my vocals start to work back up to a higher pitch and then almost into a screaming wildness while the bass pushes everything up to this pulsating crescendo where the guitars start wailing for joy again in this feverish power chord frenzy. My voice is filled with this tense energy that just wants to explode every word like a bomb on top of the whole mess. It turns into this kind of stripped-down garage rock kind of thing, this basic rock’n’roll kind of trashing temper pervades everything. The song, which is almost ten minutes long I think, keeps oscillating between all of these different states of mind, these various ways of feeling and of not being able to feel, of anhedonia and sybaritism, of morbidity and jubilant laughter and everything in between, and the music at all times mirrors these differing mindsets. In the letter the kid is telling me how he feels so disconnected from the world, and how when he feels totally cut-off and like there is nothing he can do to bring himself out of this slough of despond he just listens to this song over and over and it somehow makes him feel connected to something, to feel I guess that somebody else understands, that these things are okay, that he’s okay, and that everything is going to be all right. That was really something. I remembered being like that kid once. Listening to Penelope of The Avengers sing, “I believe in me. I make my dreams real.” It was sort of the same thing going on. I was a lonely kid. I’d stay up late at night and read dictionaries and draw pictures with pencils on blue-lined white paper, these pictures of stick figures on piers drowning under tidal waves. I’d felt like this kid once. And music had given me the gumption and the chutzpah to do something, whatever it was, that I wanted to do. It’d given me that sense of purpose and self-confidence that I’d lacked. I wasn’t going to let anybody tell me I was no good anymore. Anyway, this kid’s letter obviously meant a whole lot to me. I went around in a daze for a few days there after reading it. It was the first time in my life I’d ever felt like I’d given something back to the world, that I’d made a difference in somebody else’s life, that I wasn’t in this just for me, you know? All the fame and the accolades and the gold records, it’s all bullshit, it’s a pipe dream, an insulated little world where you can feel safe and secure. But it’s a fake, it’s a trap, and it’s suffocating and it’ll end up killing you in the end if you get sucked in too far. One letter like that is worth more than all of that other shit combined. I always thought that I wanted to be famous, but really I guess my idea of fame was more a Saroyanian idea of it. I just wanted to be famous to a few people who mattered to me, and I’d already had that the whole time. To my wife I’m the most famous man in the world. I always have been, and I hope I always will be. Nothing can change that. And nothing should. I was famous to my parents when I was born. My good friends have always been famous to me and I’ve always been a famous person to them too. This might seem odd. Well, it is. I guess we all have our own ways of defining these things, these different ways of existing in this world. But the kind of fame that this kid saw in me, what he idolized and adored, what the music brought him, well, that’s the kind of fame that matters. I was famous to this kid because of what my music had opened up inside of him, and fame is just a mirror we hold up to ourselves, just the personification of our own idealized hopes and desires. It is what we keep telling ourselves we’d most like to be. Or sometimes we maybe trick ourselves into believing that. I am not famous because thousands of people listen to my records, or because many people pay a lot of money to go see me play music on a stage. Their adulation is petty, it’s a trick, a canard, a bluff to get through the day. And I’ve never wanted that kind of fame. Shit. Jesus. I get a lot of fan mail. I don’t read it anymore. I don’t want any more letters like that one. I just want to play my music and live my life. I just want things to be simple and good and real. Shit. It's funny. I keep thinking about that Rilke poem where he says, "You must change your life." Fuck. I don’t know. It's confusing. You got a smoke?

Friday, June 27, 2008

from interviews with my friend the rock star (I)

My music, well, it’s not anything I think about, you know, after it’s done. It’s a gut thing. You know. It’s just something I do. It’s this expression of myself that I don’t want to, well, like come up with any equations to explain it, to give this kind of chart, this way of being scientific about creativity, of cataloging things, being all cerebral about it. Not that there’s not a place for that kind of thing, and not that I myself don’t enjoy doing those kinds of things too sometimes. It’s just that when it comes down to it, that kind of stuff, well, it shouldn’t be the point. You should be trying to express whatever it is inside of you, and if you can do that, as honestly as possible, then you’ve succeeded. That should be the whole point of doing these things. Anyone can sit down and…well, I mean a computer can be programmed to write hit songs, to follow a certain formula, to create certain diversions and modulations of sounds and to make hooks and catchy rhythms and put words to it and to play any instrument absolutely like technically perfectly and it all sounds great, really, but there’s always going to be something missing, um…that human element, that irreplaceable emotional quality, that ineffable momentum of the spirit that just flows and goes and knows not whither nor why it goes, um, but, well it just fucking goest, doesn’t it? You have to be free, to be totally unattached and uninhibited, wild and uncontrollable, reckless, and just throw all your luck at the wind and go, "Fuck it, this is it, this is inside of me and it must have out, and I don’t give a rat’s ass what the hell the world thinks." And you can always go back and try to make it sound perfect and give it a way of feeling that you might think you might have wanted it to have when you first made the thing come to life…but the song, the life, the way, it’s all one thing and it’s all the same and it’ll never be as good as it could have been. You can talk about atonal mood swings and submediant switches from major and minor chord progressions and swinging major tonic sevenths and ninths and octave ascents and Aeolian cadences until you’re blue in the face and you still won’t understand any of it. That’s why we make music, to explain things we can’t explain in any ordinary sort of way, to create a state of mind that is unreachable by any other means, to move worlds and make galaxies collide, to breathe. If you can write this song and play it well and sing it so other people enjoy it, well, that’s great. I’m not saying that’s not a good thing. But there’s always got to be something more to it, something that you can only judge at that gut level, you know, that thing that stirs your dreams and shakes your soul and keeps you awake staring at walls at 4 a.m. until it just bursts out and leaves you oddly sapped yet also fulfilled, with this near-death kind of unthinking logic all over it, like you’re some Lazarus come back from the dead to explain things, but only you’ve got nothing to say, just this dizzy tinkling of sounds and a melody that goes round and round in your head and won’t leave on its own. Observing time as it flies by. When it stops so do I. It’s hard to talk about these kinds of things. That’s why we write songs instead. Does that answer your question?