Rebel Without A Pause– s1e5: This Isn’t Happening?

by BrotherDarkness AKA Butch Rosser

You can imagine I was pleasantly stunned when I found out my last column had earned me a fan who asked the justifiable question “What in the world possibly goes on in (my) brain?” (italics and parenthesis mine)  Somebody who cared asked and as usual I feel compelled to answer honestly.

I’m awake.  It’s almost 9:30 am.

It’s too early for me.

And I am goddamned hungover.

If I hadn’t remembered I was hungover, I would know it now, because there’s a facsimile Lincoln hat on my nightstand which is shining a little bit in the early morning sunlight and holding two bags of chips I got at a party last night.  You see, last night somebody I barely knew who didn’t remember the time we met last year was having her birthday party at a hot new club in town.  I spent yesterday doing not much, while things got done: business e-mails for the future, hot tracks I want to play in the club &/or in my personal life, recovering from heartbreak, wondering if I knew the next girl, backtabbing where I’m going to move to later, et al.

But none of those things were my focus yesterday.  They were merely planets orbiting the sun of my main thought: do I go to this birthday party at a hot new club in town where somebody I barely know probably isn’t going to remember the time we met last year?  A Costanzian dystopia spit out innumerable reactions and mudslides of personal humiliation, professional embarrassment, social awkwardness, and acute discomfort in anything from the possibly of badly made drinks made by bartenders new to me to running into an ex-girlfriend or some sort of single-serving friend I’d bumped uglies with a time or six.

In addition to THAT, I knew for a fact that I would be having happy hour two blocks away far before the party and that I would have actual friends at a little dive bar where my friend was singing some jazz standards a block away from this party and would be highly likely to show up at that event at some point in the evening as well.

The thought still centered about do I go to this particular party or not, and you know what choice I ended up making.  But let’s follow that answer with Occam’s Question: why?

The answer to Occam’s Question centers around part of the reason why I’ve been up for mere moments, groaning lowly the whole time, rueing the effect of all the free drinks I downed almost as much as the fact I’m in this bed alone and it occurs to me that while I’m not the only person going through some form of this mindset right now that the only person who really understands me at this moment is James Murphy.

The name isn’t familiar except to music cognoscenti like me, so let me see if I can get more eyeballs into this tent–James Murphy is the founder and lead singer and multi-armed instrumentalist behind LCD Soundsystem.  For the past five years his lyrics have become less things that pass through my ears and more things that’ve wrapped themselves around my heart and brain.  And now, of course, he’s leaving to go on to the next thing in his life.  Maybe a new band, despite all his clucking to the contrary, or maybe just settling back into position in his leadership role guiding DFA Records and the likes of Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Hot Chip, maybe dropping a dope remix banger here or there.  This isn’t going to be a hipster diatribe about James moving on with his life and leaving me in the lurch to sip champagne out of the asses of supermodels on 56-foot yachts; this is going to be a weird, small piece about how he exposed me to a new life before I even got into it, is the soundtrack for it, taught me all sorts of major and minor truths, and now that he’s gone…who’s going to do it?

You see, at first I was just a guy who was borderline obsessive about music (to the absolute surprise of everyone reading this, I’m sure) who admired DJs and went to clubs.  But while I knew top 40 stuff, that wasn’t my world.  Old school hip hop was my world.  Maybe classic rock.  Maybe stuff I didn’t know & knew I couldn’t do, some ineffable sound of the future yet to be realized.

And then somebody dropped Losing My Edge on me, a hilarious seven-and-a-half minute Bizarro World version of Sympathy For The Devil in which the protagonist, voiced by Murphy over beats I could’ve made on a Casio when I was 5 can’t focus on the fact he’s virtually introduced Nico to Lou Reed or Fab Five Freddy to Deborah Harry or started kicking Daft Punk tracks at gigs in the deserted, uncool part of town known as Brooklyn.  I’m losing my edge, he complains.  The cool kids are coming up from behind.  I’m losing my edge to better-looking people with better ideas and more talent.

This would’ve been a moment to bail on this oddball paranoia until he added the cruelest of poison-tipped knives in the heart with the next line: And they’re actually…really, really nice.

It took me a few listens of Losing My Edge to figure that he wasn’t making fun of the scene he was in or loved it to realize he was doing both, and throwing in some jabs at a mirror, too.  The sloppy Kraftwerkian funk that was propelling the track was intentional, the namedrop binge was as well, the lyrics that inverted and flipped on themselves was all part of the plan, and after I listened to Losing My Edge a few times I realized that the author, whoever they were and whatever fears they had in their head, was far from realizing the title.  I loved the style and lack thereof, was amused by the lyrics, and figured I would never hear from them again.

You know, something along the lines of the same train of thought I had after I heard Yellow for the first time.  Whatever happened to that sleepy-eyed Thom Yorke wannabe, anyhow?

And while LCD Soundsystem proceeded to blow up off of the also-funny but way more funky Daft Punk Is Playing At My House, it was the more inward Tribulations that won the honors on the self-titled debut for me, and explains why I am cursing the light and wishing for the darkness: downtempo as shit and full of wry frustration directed at SOMEBODY (muse?  lover?  ex?  producer?  friend? some mix-and-match combo of the aforelisted?) about mistakes that seem to keep on sticking, the way mistakes can haunt the soul as a ghost, and the seminal line for me off the song and album:

But it feels alright as long as something’s happening.

This hit me between jobs and off a breakup caused in part by being between jobs.  As I was starting to leave the conventional world and starting to build playlists.  As DJing friends would make me their bathroom break at the club and let me get on, a song here, two songs there, a small 15 minutes there while they lit up in the back alley or had their cupcake on the moment spit-polish their theme park in the bathroom.  But I kept the crowd going.  I swallowed down a continent’s worth of nerves and got competent.  I started going out more and watching more DJs.  I played some more here and there and stretched my hard drive to the breaking point with mp3s through all these trials and tribulations and started getting one-off payments from the nation.  I floated through day jobs as a hint of a cypher, but like Wheelchair Jimmy would do with less panache down the road I came alive in the nighttime to see the best DJs in the world, to drop a track here or there, to make other people lose themselves in the sound–well, not exactly the way I got lost in the sound because that way lays madness of psychotics, geniuses, and psychotic geniuses–but that they too would hear something, or something unexpected, and they could leave behind the ex and the bullshit day job and the mounting pressures of bills and the weird mixture of joy and envy that follows engagements, all of that.

I could turn up the soundsystem a little more and let them drop their infernal internal Rube Goldberg Mobius strips like bags on the stoop after a long vacation.

James was right: it always feels alright as long as something’s happening.  This is why I creep the streets at night more often than not, because I know what happens in the darkness of my mind and heart in my own residence–at some point, I have to face the fact I’m alone and 38 in white people years and I may have just blown it again.  No matter what awesome projects beckon in the future, no matter what interesting mashups I work on, no matter what friends reach out to me at the end of it you look into a monitor long enough and all you can see is your face sometimes.  So gimme some mirth!  Let me go out into the streets I’ve been in a thousand times that’ve changed 900 times, let me hobnob people barely a step up from virtual strangers, let me sip horribly overpriced cocktails at a rooftop in a place I hate but I’ll go when I can get in for free because my friend is on the decks, let me make a serious of possibly funny bon mots that lead to me crowning myself “the KING of 19th century assassination jokes” and look at my bedstand in momentary confusion the next day because Something’s Happening.

When I first started listening to LCD?  It feels like 13 lives ago.  That iteration of me bears a resemblance, but that’s all external.  Inside, I feel much different, like I’ve played Face/Off with myself in both roles using the past and the present and the future as the character archtypes. When Sound Of Silver came out as the second release from Murphy & Co. it was feted with the usual rave reviews from all the tastemakers, who pointed to the buyoant fun of the “Daft Punk”-esque North American Scum that was also touched upon in the title track and the epic that closed the album, New York, I Love You, But I’m Bringing You Down.  Those are some of my favorite tracks for all the reasons most people give, but it’s not my favorite track on the album, my favorite LCD song of all the times.

And I’m sure you’ll be unbelievably shocked to find that my favorite LCD song is the one song in the past five years that has made me cry.  In fact, almost nothing has made me cry in the past five years through some really shitstormy times and I can’t think of a counterargument to that.  But this song did it.  Every once in a great while, it still does.

All My Friends is Losing My Edge with every trace of the humor removed to the point where it, too, comes in at about seven and a half minutes, and it described what when I first heard it was Murphy’s average night in New York City, a night that begins around 11, maybe 10:30 since the city never sleeps.  (Oh, those lucky bastards who don’t have to close down at 1:30!  To quote a Hollywood friend of mine, San Diego will never be New Orleans.  Mostly because we see the ocean instead of get choked to death by it.)  But the thing about All My Friends that makes me cry is I feel that in it’s totality it best describes what my life is and has become, for better and for worse.  THIS life.  Not the one I was living when I first heard Edge, but life as I live it this moment down to the annoyingly loud clack that comes from my hitting keystroke to keyboard.  In fact, it’s playing in the background because I haven’t heard it in days, and despite the fact most of my life is looking up and it’s a brilliant day outside now I’m still fighting off tears a bit.

I cannot understate this: everyone would understand me better if they listened to this song.

It begins with going somewhere that isn’t your home to see how people — some of whom are probably your friends or have at least acted that way to your face in the recent past — have ranked you in a list, and then spinning a reaction to their reactions.  It ends with the plaintive hope that probably isn’t coming true of If I could see all my friends tonight. In the middle, it talks about the awkwardness of aging, the 21st century attempt to control fate known as the five-year plan, and the possibility all the fun you’re cramming in now becomes “this is tired” two hours from now, or less–in fact, it’s the underhanging fulcrum the entirety of the song/my life swings upon.

It should be noted: some times I go out and it is excellent.  It’s not a P. Diddy video, but it’s a tremendously good time.  It’s like the dinner scene in Goodfellas where Pesci tells the waiter to fuck his mother.  If I were to replay my memories in stillshot or video form the next day, it would be full of weird and interesting conversations, pretty women, drinks flowing (most of which I didn’t pay full price for), good music, broad smiles, no hassles at the door, a possible tumble in a bed (though this has gotten somewhat increasingly unnecessary as time goes on to me), a 24-hour Mexican food place to refuel, the sunrise being the last thing I see as I close my eyes.  You’re probably my friend on Facebook.  You’ve seen that photostream.

When it’s going badly, however, it’s going badly.  I don’t even mean the one time I got a drink thrown in my face (deserved, by the way), I mean the death by a thousand paper cuts where the hype emperor has no clothes.  Things’re just off, egos bruised, EDM, and being so fed up with the scene and your place in it you ditch the scene in media res only to get home and find out, oh, by the way, you’re not happy here either and there you sit in the dark being a vampire.

Being a vampire.

I have new slang to reflect my new life now.

The term “being a vampire” in my eyes when LCD first dropped was really just a synonym for what’s known as goth.  Now, that’s not the term I mean.  When I say being a vampire, it means leading a lifestyle based on being in some way part of the scene.  Photogs, DJs, writers, bartenders, go-go dancers, security guys, ad infinitum.  The people who keep the pulse going at the cost of being connected to a large part of most of the civilized world, all the freaks who come out at night.  All of my friends at nights.   If you’re more reachable at 10 pm than 10 am, if your alarm’s set for the crack of noon, if you look at people in general admission lines and chortle inwardly or outwardly, if you’ve ever had the Serato v. Vinyl discussion for consecutive seconds, VAMPYR!  But again, that’s a vampire in my eyes.  Most people?  Most people are civilians.  And now I’m beginning to refer to them as such, which raises an interesting question: since most people are civilians, most of my friends would have to be civilians, too, wouldn’t they?

And they are.

It’s taking a bit of a psychic toll, honestly.  I want to hang out with my long-time friends.  I want the messy interior of their lives and how they keep marriages going and children alive.  (I want to look at that from the outside, mind you.  Unless you’re ScarJo you probably shouldn’t expect me to be ready for all of that anytime soon.)  I want to remember all the stuff we talked about 13, 21, 45 lives ago and make old, familiar jokes about those times.

The problem is I love being a vampire too much at the end of the day, bad times and self-flagellation aside.  In the choice between the future and the past I am opting for door #1 — not without regret, but firmly nonetheless.  And more times than not, I don’t see all of my friends, or for that matter many of them, at least not with the frequency that I used to.  And it does get frustrating to be awesome in a vacuum and not have a familiar face of a “normie” you call friend lighting up back at you.

It can be punishingly lonely.  But when it’s not — when things, and in my case sometimes myself — when things are on it’s tiger blood wrapped in Adonis DNA dipped in cocaine served off of Scarlett Johansson it’s so good.  Like every other junkie in the history of mankind you chase the hit for the times where all the mental self-laceration and world worry just falls to the wayside and you feel like King Awesome Of Awesomestan decreeing that the Royal Card was BUILT for times like these, serf, and put some more grog on there for me and all the knights and princesses of my realm.

The best LCD Soundsystem lyrics reflect both of these sides of the coin, sometimes in the same song, sometimes in the same line.  Because James Murphy lived it, when he writes about it it’s not surprising it seems to reflect the darkest (or lightest) reaches of my head.

When Drunk Girls came out last year, it got torn apart so fast you would’ve thought it was attached to James Franco’s shoulder in 127 Hours.  I was, and remain highly amused by this.  Of course people focused on the part where DRUNK GIRLS! or DRUNK BOYS! was repeated, the same way everybody ignored the drug use and oral sex in the verses of Semi-Charmed Life so they could doot-doot-doot along to the chorus and the same way people looked at the Genie In A Bottle video and thought “What a cute young woman!” instead of listening to the words and thinking “I could probably anally fistfuck this chick by the fourth date” the way history has proven the larger truths.  Of course they did.  They’re people.  Civilians.  But for a dork like me?  A creature of the night?  A pulse-setter who takes the one of his own emotions every waking moment and most sleeping ones?  I got the undertones, the fulcrum.  As much as I liked the analogy of love being akin an astronaut who comes back but they’re never the same, about 100 seconds in Murphy wrote what’re IMSNHO his best lyrics in his entire discography, lyrics that may’ve made me cry if I’d encountered them earlier in life but now just seem to be an autobiography written by him about someone he’s never met distilled to 8 lines quoted here in entirety:

Just ’cause I’m shallow doesn’t mean that I’m heartless
Just ’cause I’m heartless doesn’t mean that I’m mean
Sometimes love gives us too many options
Just ’cause you’re hungry doesn’t mean that you’re lean
I’ve heard lies that could curdle your heartstrings
A couple of truths maybe burn out your eyes
But drunk boys, drunk boys leave their irons in the fireplace
‘Cause drunk girls give them too many tries

If I wasn’t such a pussy and was built like the Rock I would get this tattooed on my person as a constant reminder of who I am, where I’ve been, and where I’m trying to go to and what to avoid in the new realm.  Especially that last one.  James Murphy’s last album starts with the song Dance Yrself Clean, and leads into this.  The songs Somebody’s Calling Me & Home are also consecutive tracks, and if you think that’s a coincidence the cubicle is cutting off circulation to your brain.  A man singing I can change if it helps you fall in love just gets it, and pretty soon his band is going to knock out four sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden and apparently, that will be the end of them.  I really wish it wasn’t.  His insights have been the bridge I’ve been walking over for a better part of a decade, and now that my own career is starting to go up the stratosphere he’s willingly coming back down to Earth?  I suppose that’s just the way these things go, I guess.

But I owe Murphy more than I can state, or maybe will ever fully realize.

So I sit, and listen to the piano, continue to comb the lyrics and the sound like Temperance Brennan, and wonder who will step in and be my bridge into the next life or four.

And that, in part, should be a horribly detailed answer to the question “What in the world possibly goes on in my brain?”

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