Next to Normal

Let’s talk about music for a second. I don’t think it gets enough attention in these parts. Sure, people listen to it, but how many truly understand it? My favorite music mostly comes from the same era, between 1977 and 1992. I’m not sure what it is about those years that appeals to me, but my favorite artists–Elvis Costello, R.E.M., U2, the Talking Heads, and maybe The Cure–all peaked around that time. These days, I like Sigur Ros, Arcade Fire, and The Decemberists. I guess you could say I’m a rock and roll person.

I wouldn’t be so angered at hearing Radiohead called “the voice of our generation” if people really understood what that meant. There’s a little bit more to it than just making good music. Is Radiohead the best band of this particular era? It’s debatable, like most things. I’d rather listen to The Flaming Lips, but I won’t deny that In Rainbows is a fantastic album. When it comes to a band that captured the ethos of its own time, I usually think of Nirvana. There are plenty of people out there who don’t like them, but I think they’re fucking awesome. And they could have only been successful at that particular time. Could the same thing be said about Radiohead? That’s more of a band that transcends its time. I can’t really say that Radiohead speaks to me on that deep, primal level that Nirvana did, yet I grew up in a time when all of my peers were into Radiohead and OK Computer had usurped Nevermind as the defining album of the 90s. It may not be the most influential, but if I were picking a favorite from that decade, I might go with Achtung Baby. It was edgy, modern, and still wholly unique. Bono has been known to write lyrics that reach for effect, but “One” is a song that, even after a million listens, never gets old or fails to reveal new depths.

I wrote a long time ago about the way that hip-hop seems to have replaced rock as the defining musical genre of our time. If so, maybe Kanye West and/or Jay-Z is/are the voice(s) of this generation. But I try not to get too hung up on labels. There is a definite need to canonize art, to hammer out lists of what is good and what is bad so that we know what is worth listening to and what just doesn’t make the cut. This is, as any proper aesthete must realize at some point, stupid. It’s an arbitrary exercise, one that functions only as a glimpse into the tastes of whomever is drawing up the list. That said, making lists is fun, and if you’re looking for a place to begin, you could do a lot worse than looking up what is in with the critics and educating yourself about that. Sooner or later, you’ll start to think for yourself, and that’s where the fun really begins.

I have no patience for people who think they know better than anybody else where to set the boundaries of human experience. They are the same people who use the word “normal” as a tool for exclusion rather than inclusion. This might seem like a gear shift, so bear with me: all I’m trying to say is that I’m sick of labels. I had a friend in high school who introduced me as “the most cynical man you’ll ever meet”. In other respects, he was fine, but whenever he did that, I wanted to clobber him. How unfair is it to tag me in such a way that everything I do is filtered through the lens of cynicism? I’ve had similar incidents with regards to my sexuality, but I’m not going to get too hung up on that. Watch this scene from Louie if you don’t know what I’m talking about.

I don’t usually get this candid in public. I’m really sick of everyone I care about trying to make me feel as incapable as possible. Last night, I got a call from my mother while I was doing my homework in which she told me that she’d noticed that a piece of furniture in my old room had been severely damaged. The reason was exactly what she suspected: I’d smashed it up after an especially bad day. She told me she found this “disturbing”. I don’t think it is. If I allowed myself to think it was, I’d be dead. The only thing that keeps me going anymore is the knowledge that my problems aren’t so bad, that other people have been through what I’ve been through, that I’m normal. I have a great empathy for the depressed, the insecure, the bipolar and schizophrenic, because I know how it feels to spend your entire life struggling to fit into a world that always feel one beat out of step with you. I don’t believe that anyone’s problems are so severe that suicide is the only answer. But it’s hard to see that when you’re down in a hole, crashing up against a dead end because there’s nowhere else to go. My mother called me up basically because she wanted to know why I hold her at arm’s length. Probably because she is better than almost anyone I know at making people feel alienated, as if they aren’t really pulling their weight just because they aren’t moving quite fast enough for her. Someday, she’ll realize how selfish she is being. After the call, I had to take a break from my homework because she’d made it so hard to continue. I’ll never get married, buy my own house, or have children (not something I plan on doing, but you never know) if this is the kind of relationship I have with her.

When I went to Catholic school, I sang in my choir. There aren’t too many good songs about Jesus, because so many of them, like love songs, fall back on cliches and platitudes. The ones that find something original and unique to say do so because they have more of a point than just, “God, you are so great.” There are a handful that I still remember. This is one of my favorites.


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