Sunday, February 17, 2008
All Good? Perhaps Not
[Editor’s Note: I recently found 4 crumpled-up pages with the notes I wrote at this past summer’s All Good festival. They were in my bedside table, underneath a book on the Auschwitz death camps and a pad of paper with notes on 50 Cent. I don’t know what the symbolism is, but if anyone has any suggestions, I’m listening.]
Dressed in a mustard-stained sweatshirt and frosted in two days’ worth of grime, sweat, and mud, I listen to the Sunday morning around me. Our much-abused campsite has to be condensed into a car trunk when everyone else wakes up—I haven’t yet gone to sleep. When the sun comes up we will have to pack up our stuff, chip in for gas, and drive the seven hours back to New York. Now, however, all is platonically quiet, and I am watching the sun raise its first sliver over Masontown, West Virginia. With the sun comes clarity on this All Good festival: a whirlwind of music, ersatz inspiration, and sleep deprivation, the nexus of fake and real verve, uppers, downers, iced coffee, and vocal vegetarians.
It’s impossible to spend a weekend with umpteen thousand hippies and avoid learning something profound. This festival's lesson: it takes a lot of faith to believe that everyone has cognitive dissonance. All indications suggest that not everyone has conflicting thoughts and feelings, and while it is generally postulated that everyone has a degree of mental discomfort, I no longer know that to be true.
There is a physiology and a psychology, a mind and a heart, a vertical collection of 206 bones and a spirit. These pairs are perpetually opposed, and the struggle within hurts. The distortion at the center of the skull, where forebrain greets eyes, is the physical tragedy that betrays this deep, human friction. Though it may be debasing to deny them the fissure between hedonism and peace of mind, some people don’t seem to struggle. These people sing pirate songs at dawn and smoke light cigarettes outside their tents at music festivals and curse like they mean it and talk like they don’t.
They are absorbed, apparently, by subsistence’s bare trivialities—what to eat, who to talk to, how fast to drive, how much beer to drink. Did parents teach them to live like this? Did teachers condone their one-dimensionality? Who taught them shallowness, and who reinforced it? Do they not have selves, or souls, or a voice inside that tells them shut up? What do they think they’re doing here? What do they think about at night, when they can’t sleep and the Dylans and Hendrixes on the wall maintain their silence? If only a glowing finger could come down from Heaven, point in their direction, and say, “Don’t worry, they’re just as confused as you are.”
The nature around me is beautiful. The sun continues to show itself, and brings along with it a stunning tree-lined horizon and the dawn-lit visage of thousands of tents, multi-colored canvases planted like buttons on a hillside. But beauty is not everything. Is nature reliable? No—it’s capricious, deadly, high-maintenance. What good is nature if it is merely beautiful? What good are people if they aren’t fighting themselves?
This is truly man in the state of nature, and, like Thomas Hobbes said, it is nasty and brutish. I don’t think I’m coming to All Good next year, at least not without more intoxicants. All this clear-headedness is getting me down.
Stay Sunny, Marvin’s Mountaintop