A Divided Mind on the 4th of July

I find it kind of amusing that our country celebrates its birthday by blowing shit up, considering our foreign policy as of late.  When I was in Chicago there were so many fireworks going off that it sounded like a warzone.  I even saw a member of our entourage duck at one point because it was so loud it sounded like gunfire.  I couldn’t half blame him.  These weren’t fireworks that you could see, but just loud bangs going off at regular intervals with occasional whistling sounds like incoming.  I remembered the story of Devil’s Den from growing up near Gettysburg. 

The next day I read an article about how fireworks are bad for people with asthma, frighten dogs and other animals, and kill birds.  Nothing like a grand old tradition brought low.  

As one grows older and learns more you must develop the ability to live with a divided mind.  Or to put it another way, you must learn to be selectively crazy.  What did Slade sing about us all being crazy?

I was at a cookout recently in which I was there on a professional level.  Being that I am not a vegetarian could I enjoy the roasted pig knowing that pigs are as smart as dogs?  When one of the males made a crude comment about all the wives present, without any wit or knowing absurdity, should I just shrug it off or comment that he sounded like a dumbass? 

The show Curb Your Enthusiasm is so brilliant because Larry David so often says the things that we often want to, but manners and politeness keep us from doing so.  There are no easy answers.  So much of modern life is absurd that we must often choose the best path out of many bad ones.  It reminds me of a quote at the beginning of the Anthony Newley song Maladjusted: “On this glorious occasion of the splendid defeat.”

Curb Your Enthusiasm

One of the principle ideas of Larry David’s show, Curb Your Enthusiasm, is that people aren’t really all that interested in hearing about the great things that someone has been up to, hence the title.  I realize that upon returning from Japan that there are very few people that I can share the experiences that I had with.  There are people that flat out won’t care.  There are people that will care, but can’t understand.  Usually when I get back from a trip and people ask me how it is, I relay a couple of the stronger moments and move on.  I don’t really want to bore anyone and I’m very aware that what I might have been through on a journey is not all that relatable.  Sometimes, you just had to be there.

However, on this blog I try to use my personal likes and dislikes, my personal experiences and biases, as a way to take a different look at our culture and our world.  So I will have no choice but to write here about what I’ve seen and thought over the last week in upcoming days.  This trip has left me with a flood of emotions and ideas.  I learned and experienced an incredible amount of things.  I will try to not make it a simple trip journal, as again I hope not to bore you.  I do hope to be able to use these experiences to dive into bigger ideas that might be of interest to those of you that have never been to this part of the world. 

I left Tokyo on Monday at 6:40pm and somehow arrived back in Austin on Monday at 6pm.  That’s right, I arrived earlier on Monday then when I departed.  It’s probably as close to time travel as I’ll ever get.  Tonight I rest.  Tomorrow I will try to make some sense of what I saw and get back into the regular schedule of blogging.  

Lou Reed Lyrics Day 2: Bottoming Out

As I said yesterday, in honor of Lou Reed, every day this week I am going to pick a set of his lyrics and write a piece on them.  Today I picked the lyrics Bottoming Out from his excellent Legendary Hearts album:
 

Bottoming Out

I’m cruising fast on a motorcycle
Down this winding country road
And I pass the gravel on the foot of the hill
Where last week I fell off

There’s still some oil by the old elm tree
And a dead squirrel that I hit
But if I hadn’t left, I would have struck you dead
So I took a ride instead

Bottoming out
Bottoming out
Bottoming out
Bottoming out

My doctor says, she hopes I know
How lucky I can be
After all it wasn’t my blood
Mixed in the dirt that night

But this violent rage, turned inward
Can not be helped by drink
And we must really examine this and I say
I need another drink

Bottoming out
Bottoming out
Bottoming out
Bottoming out

I’m tearing down route 80 east
The sun’s on my right side
I’m drunk, but my vision’s good
And I think of my child bride
And on the left in shadows
I see something that makes me laugh
I aim that bike at the fat pothole
Beyond that underpass

Bottoming out
Bottoming out
Bottoming out
Bottoming out

 

The thing that often gets overlooked by the casual Lou Reed listener is how absolutely drop dead funny he could be.  In reading these lyrics one might not think of humor their first interpretation.  Lyrics, unlike poetry, are only half the story.  How they interact with the music and the delivery of the singer can change their meaning.  This song to brings a smile to my face every time I hear it.  I find this song to be full of the blackest humor.  Lou Reed understood the divine comedy of life. 

For those of you that don’t think Lou Reed had a sense of humor, when he released Berlin, what many consider to be the most depressing album of all time, he said he was, “just having fun”.  The thing about Lou Reed was that he played everything straight.  Some songwriters write songs that are silly, they wear their humor on their sleeves.  Also the way they sing something might express joy and humor in their delivery.  Lou Reed kept everything real close to his breast.  I actually believe this is one of his greatest strengths as a singer.  Many people say that Lou can’t sing.  In a technical sense, they could often be right.  However, when it comes to conveying something through song, for making the stories of his lyrics come alive, he was one of the very best singers.  Try to sing the above song and make it come across the way he did. Even if you are a great singer, I bet you can’t do it.  His voice was the perfect instrument for conveying his truth.

The music to this song is upbeat.  It’s a rock n roll pop song. He purposely chose in arranging this song to put these “dark” lyrics to music that was the opposite.  I believe there is some clue there in his intention.     
Soldiers in war often express “gallows humor”.  They make jokes about completely inappropriate things, even death, to keep sane in the face of madness.  I believe that Lou was often doing something similar.  You know the old saying: If you didn’t laugh, you’d cry. 
When you watch a show like Curb Your Enthusiasm it is full of humor based on the problems of human behavior.  The situations Larry David finds himself in are extreme, but we can often relate to them in some way.  He often says the things that we are thinking, but can’t say. 

Everyone has had a bad day.  This song is a bad day taken to the extreme.  In taking a normal situation that everyone has dealt with and painting an extreme version of it, Lou is creating a situation where absurdity arises.  There is a famous quote that is, “Comedy is tragedy plus time.”  I would add distance to that equation.  Lou Reed, by presenting us with distance to the above situation, through the distance of artistic perspective, allows us to see the humor and absurdity of the narrator’s situation.  It doesn’t hurt that again he has put these words to a bouncy little tune that helps highlight this. 

Whenever I am having a bad day I put this song on and my spirits can’t help but brighten.  It is in particular some of the darkest lines that I find the funniest given the context of the song.  It is the way he sings bottoming out with almost no emotion.  Maybe I just have a strange sense of humor!

But I don’t think that is totally the case.  I’m sure many of you have had a day that has gone from one bad thing to another.  All of a sudden it reaches a point of such horrible ridiculousness that you find yourself laughing.  Whatever that emotion is, that part of the human spirit that allows us to laugh when things go wrong, Lou Reed must have instinctually understood.  He turned it into a song.  It’s easy to write a song that is just sad or just happy.  But try to write something that conveys those kinds of emotions that are in between, that you feel, but can’t quite describe.  Lou made a whole career out of it.  He was a poet and an artist.  He was also a funny motherfucker. 

This is technically going up a little early.  But what the hell, it’s after midnight on the east coast.