Saturday, September 29, 2007

Daft Punk is playing at my existential crisis.

The last week has sounded uncannily like LCD Soundsystem's "All My Friends" on repeat. Music is supposed to be that great unspoken catalyst that opens us up to the feelings we need access to in order to feel happy, or at least to know what it is we *are* feeling. Then why is this the song I'm listening to? Do I find familiarity in the endlessly repeating piano note that reflects the monotonous grind of my life? Do I sense an uncomfortable inevitability in James Murphy's narrative point of view -- that I'm destined to, like him, become a 37-year-old looking back on his life regretting things and hoping to replace those things in the ever-dwindling future? Does the wistful melodrama of the song reflect my own yearning for something that probably doesn't exist, even when my knowledge of its nonexistence does nothing to mitigate the yearning?

But what about all of the things this song gets wrong? I mean, how stupid of a decision did he make, and how do we know it *wasn't* worth five years of life? You'd think that this disconnect between my own situation and that of the song would must-needs diminish the resonance the song is having with my life right now, but it's not. Those tired echoes with which the song dies, before its corpse is re-animated by the fun, but utterly verve-less "Us v Them", seem to me to signal a kind of all-too-God-damn-unavoidable termination not just of Life, but of all the things in it that make it worth Living. The people we know, the places we're able to go (apartments, road trips, concerts, sleep-overs, her couch, his favorite bar, the library when it's raining out), the books we want to read and then the ones we do, ideas we have and think about without ever telling anyone else, the jokes we can't get out of our heads weeks after we've heard them...these are the things -- the drums, the cymbals, the electric rush of guitar, James Murphy's voice, and that gloriously obnoxious piano -- that come together to make the entire song of our lives. Or at least my life. Maybe only parts of my life, the parts that are meaningful, that I remember, and that I look back on as the foundations of my identity. So if that's the case, then those resigned, undefined fuzzy blobs at the end...what do they mean? Is that the part where you're thrown off the train of life, and all you can make out is the blurry lights of the caboose as it goes around the last bend? I mean, is that when you *die* and that's it? Or, if you follow the structure of the album, is that where all the real meaning of your life goes on ahead without you, and you're stuck trying to construct something out of your memories of what was good? "Us v Them" is a great song, but it's merely a simulacrum of the heart of "All My Friends." Is that what we're destined to? Do we not get a choice, or is that the challenge of the whole thing, to figure out how to make that meaning last? By the six minute mark, the climax is in sight and every element of the song is in place, like the Tour de France, the Iditarod and the New York City Marathon all converging on one finish line, but they're not there yet. It is beautiful, but it is excruciatingly temporary.

Those runners, those instruments, that layering of sound that magically becomes a song -- those are the things in our lives we don't even notice at the time but realize at some point later on that they are what gives our lives meaning. They are Kleist's untestable, impermanent truth. But imagine, for a second, that, as fast as our lives go, and as hectic as this modern world is, we are able to fixate on one thing, one real thing that has real meaning for us. In the whirling tumble of the song's last 35 seconds, you've latched onto something that makes your skin prickle, lifts your hair from your hair like someone turned off the gravity, speeds up your heart and puts the rhythm of anxiety in your legs. that happiness? Is that meaning? That one thing, that one person, or place, or discrete process, is that the thing that gives your life meaning? And if it is, how much more terrible is Murphy's cry, "You forgot what you meant when you read what you said/ And you always knew you were tired"? He's seeing the future here, for him only a dozen or so seconds' worth, but for us that's the rest of the week, the rest of 2007, the rest of our lives. How can we ever be happy when the things that fill us with meaning are as transient as the soundwaves coming out of our headphones? Is it necessary, to save your sanity, that your last thought be, "over and over, 'Hey, I'm finally dead'"? Is it necessary, to save yourself from immeasurable pain, that your last action be a self-defensive reflex of forgetting, forgetting all of these things, all of your friends, until at last you've even forgotten whose friends they were to begin with? Are we destined to cry out alongside a confused Murphy, "Where are your friends tonight?/ Where are your friends tonight?" I don't want that destiny, but I don't see how to avoid it. I don't want all of the good things in my life to pass out of relevance. I don't want to face a stage in which I remember people's faces without remembering the gut-punch of how much they meant to me.

The five distorted snare hits that bring the song to silence might not indicate actual physical death, but they're the death of importance, the death of a single instant of personal truth, and like sea-sinking cannonballs tied to ropes that stretch back across the beach and into the mainland, when this truth is lost to us, it pulls with it the meaning it brought. So how come we don't all just kill ourselves now? Facing the horror of the ultimate meaninglessness of all the meaning in our lives, why do we go on? There's got to be a reason, because we do. And the thing is, the longer we go on, the more we encounter and accumulate, and the more we ultimately lose. Why?

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