Friday, February 29, 2008
“And the lesson here is, if there can be peace in Ireland, there can be peace fuckin’ anywhere!” Dave King, the knot on his Irish-green tie dangling almost a foot beneath his neck, proclaimed, angling his fingers into a peace sign. King, the lead singer for Flogging Molly, an LA-based Irish American punk band, imparted these words of wisdom to a boozed-up crowd at Manhattan’s Irving Plaza on Thursday night, February 28. Then, without a trace of irony, he cued the band into a stirring folk anthem, inciting a sweaty, drunken mosh pit that physically shook the venue’s floor. Tattooed Irishmen spilled over one another, elbowing and shouldering each other to the ground and just as quickly picking each other up. An odd way to celebrate brotherhood, but hey—it’s better than family dinner.
Bestial though it seems, the mosh pit is the least-understood rock phenomenon. Ostensibly, it embodies everything that parents and censorship boards and suit-clad politicians rally against. In reality, it is a fraternal, safe bonding ground for delirious celebration. There are rules—you can’t intentionally hurt or knock down your comrade. There is also order—certain sections, usually in the middle, are designated for heavy contact, while those further out on the periphery are reserved for lighter tussling. Most heartwarming is the procedure for when, inevitably, one guy goes down and three perspiring bodies fall over him. The action around them stops (on a friggin’ dime), and other moshers pull up the fallen revelers. Handshakes and head-nods are exchanged, and the beatings resume.
Outsiders just can’t get the sentiment. Most moshes (disclaimer: anything involving the words “Pantera” or “meth addict” is different) aren’t inhabited by frustrated bikers looking to wail on strangers. In fact, the craziest moshes I’ve seen—Metallica, Audioslave, and The Vines, to name just three—were full of smiling, hopping partiers. Not quite the enraged, chaotic mess you might imagine. Last night, while Flogging Molly blistered through a shamrock romp, a man and woman slow-danced in the violence’s vortex, flailing wrecking balls wreaking havoc all around them. They were the like the sun and moon uniting in a meteor shower. I think they started making out.
“You know, having three days off in New York is a bad idea for a rock band,” King said later, eyes wide. “You can get into lots of fuckin’ trouble.” The crowd roared its approval, in the way that only rock crowds can unequivocally agree with something they know nothing about. The guy next to me, shirtless and about three feet thick (metaphor?), was looking to the sky, eyes closed and eyebrows lifted. The girl he was holding, possibly the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen, leaned softly against him. When the next tune started, he moved her behind him and threw himself like a missile into some poor schmuck in the middle of the pit. The schmuck went down, and then the missile fell on top of him. They laughed, picked each other up, and then teamed up on some other guy. The girl took it all in from just beyond the mayhem, and damned if I never saw someone look so in love.
Sunday, February 24, 2008
A woman, an African American, or a senior citizen will be running the free world next year. Bloggers and news reporters are curiously obsessed with this very simple, very unimportant fact. Not to downplay the victory for civil/womens’/crotchety folks’ rights, but regardless of who occupies the Oval Office, the policy initiatives will be the same. Issues like welfare, Medicare, Social Security, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, etc., have no sense of history—they won’t relent because the President looks different than any previous executive. So pardon me for thinking that all this “we are the world” hoopla is slightly misguided.
So where, exactly, do the candidates stand on the issues? You’ll be glad to know that I am a political science major, I own two televisions, I read the NY Times at least three times a week, and I am privileged with the company of sage professors and informed citizens. Naturally, I don't know a thing about any of the candidates. I didn’t vote in the primaries despite the pump-up “Super Tuesday” banner, mostly because I wouldn’t know what the hell I was doing. My ignorance, however, makes me uniquely qualified to speak for the rest of America, most of which is equally clueless. In the interest of discharging my civic duty this November, I’ve decided to break down the three remaining candidates in terms I understand.
1 The Collagen Candidate: Hillary “Not Bill” Clinton
Reasons to vote for her:
While the rest of us were obsessing over Monica Lewinsky’s blowjobs, Bill Clinton was busy…well…obsessing over Monica Lewinsk’s blowjobs. According to the Starr Report, Clinton would talk to Congressmen over the phone while receiving oral sex, somehow managing to juggle the phone, Lewinsky’s two breasts, and a coherent conversation. THAT is leadership. If Hillary has learned anything from her superhero husband, we can look forward to some combination of the following: a capable, intelligent stance on domestic and foreign issues, a sex scandal, a drugs/sex/rock ‘n roll brouhaha involving First Man Bill Clinton, and an influx of blogs tracking Hillary’s botox treatments over the course of her administration.
Reasons not to vote for her:
Despite my affinity for Bill—the best President of my lifetime—Hillary has zero administrative experience. She stretched our tolerance by carpetbagging the NY Senate seat, and is doing so further by claiming that her Senatorial experience, in conjunction with numerous terms as First Lady in Arkansas and Washington, qualifies her to run the country. In addition, she can't clap with the beat—a sign that she will alienate the musician/non-white demographic.
2 The Carcinogen Candidate: Barack "Don't Call Me Muslim" Obama
Reasons to vote for him:
Not only would “President Obama” be an intimidating title for a Commander-in-Chief, but Obama has displayed poise and stoicism during an unduly stressful period. A number of people can say they’ve run for office, but how many can say they’ve done it while quitting smoking? We haven’t lent enough credence to his leadership potential—after putting down the pack during a dead-heat nomination race, what could possibly phase him? Like Bill Clinton, Obama is blessed with an otherworldly ability to multitask, as well a similar predilection for vice.
Reasons not to vote for him:
The American President is the world’s most visible public figure. As such, a candidate must be dynamic and impressive in all arenas—public speaking, private conversations, in writing, and even on Comedy Central. Hence, Exhibit A for keeping Obama out of the White House is an August 22, 2007 Daily Show interview. If Jon Stewart can’t bring you out of your shell, no one—not even Monica Lewinsky—can.
3 The Cuckold Candidate: John "Can't Remember Where He Parked" McCain
Reasons to vote for him:
McCain's dubious affair with a woman thirty years his junior has vaulted him into the cosmos with the 18-35 Pervert demographic. Furthermore, his earnest denial that a sexual relationship took place should endear him with every other group, from those who authentically believe him to those who think he’s just trying to keep the campaign centered on the relevant issues. Of course, there’s also his honorable military record and years of public service. John McCain is the IHOP candidate—hearty, totally American, and a fixture on our cultural landscape.
Reasons not to vote for him:
At 71, McCain might more closely resemble IHOP’s geriatric clientele than the actual establishment. Apologists exculpate his seniority by claiming that his detention as a Vietnam POW makes him more durable than others his age. Boosters point to his continued vitality, maintaining that his chronological age has not impacted his ability to perform (we’ll leave that up to his wife, and maybe Vicki Iseman, but point taken).
Nonetheless, McCain will be 72 if and when he is inaugurated, meaning that he’d be 80 years old by the end of a would-be second term. This raises two issues: first, although he is currently of sound mind and body, there is no guarantee that his capacities will remain intact. Might world leadership adversely impact his well-being? It well may. Second, let’s say McCain is reelected in 2012. One year later, at 77, he passes away. The abnormal probability that something like this might occur makes it imperative to judge McCain’s candidacy based on his choice for Vice President. With the very real possibility that this individual may run the country for two or three years, America must be assured that he/she is capable.
I nominate Bill Clinton.
Stay Super, Tuesday
Sunday, February 17, 2008
[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
Sunday, February 10, 2008
“No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers’ dirty looks.” I can still hear the schoolchild cacophony ringing in my three-seater, intoning the close of a tortuous academic year. Soda, popcorn, cookies, and other contraband littered the floors and walls and windows of our school bus, as we prattled about luxurious vacations to come. “I’m going to sleep away camp,” one boy would say, spilling cherry Capri Sun on his shirt. “Both months.”
“Well, I’m going to Florida with my mom,” a girl might counter, while someone surreptitiously slipped a handful of crumbled cookies into her backpack.
Finally, before the first few kids got off the bus, we destroyed. Out came the aforementioned pencils and books, sharpeners, erasers, folders, assignments, old tests, and all the remnants of responsibilities past. In lieu of a bonfire, we tore, stomped, and threw out the window anything and everything scholastic, celebrating the year’s completion. Demolition, as it were, signaled success.
The other day, after I completed the last of the “Perfect Albums” pieces, I reached to the scrawled-on sheet that I’d used as a notepad. On it were the albums we’d chosen, a few notes, some asterisks, and a few 2’s, denoting the Number Twos—the albums that just fell short of perfection (if you have no idea what I'm talking about, see the three previous blogs). In my mirth at having gotten through the last blog, I crumpled up the sheet of paper, threw it in the trash, and then tied the bag, took it outside, and watched the truck take it away.
No more pencils, no more books. All I needed was a Capri Sun and I’d have been back in the fourth grade.
However, I didn’t realize that I’d thrown out the Number Twos until it was too late. I could only remember five, but at least they are those with the most import. An optimist might say that, because I forgot the rest, it is now feasible to offer a few words of explanation regarding what kept these recordings from tasting ambrosia. A pessimist might curse and drink. I am a pessimist.
The envelope please…
Justin Timberlake – FutureSex/LoveSounds
You’re sweaty. Everyone else is out of the house. Your subwoofer is up. It's Justin Time. You navigate through most of the album, and as the incendiary “Chop Me Up” yields to the beat-heavy soul jam, “Damn Girl,” you’re wondering where your pants went. “Summer Love” fades into “Set the Mood Prelude,” disintegrating snaps stand in for snare drums, and a harp traverses up and down some finely selected love tones. You’re wishing for your virginity back, just so you could lose it now.
Suddenly, “Until the End of Time” plods lazily onto the soundscape, and you’re forced back to earth by—what is this? Shoddy R&B? Poorly crafted schmaltz? This sounds like…’N Sync. Your sweat turns cold, and your veins run even colder. This is not a perfect album.
To make matters worse, Snoop Dogg cheapens the entire project (and there is no bigger Snoop Dogg defender than I) with the babbling, insipid “Pose,” a mangled love child borne to two lazy fathers. As baseball analysts are quick to point out, your 7-8-9 hitters have to produce in order for a lineup to perform at its peak, and “FutureSex/LoveSounds” trots out duds in the 7 and 9 holes. Inexcusable.
The Damnwells – Air Stereo
Speaking of shameless nepotism, here are The Damnwells, a band so maligned and downtrodden that I adopted them as my personal project. I burn their disc for anyone who will take it, I ping encouraging emails to their management with phrases like, “You can do it guys!” and I impose myself like an ass at party after party, eager to point out that “Air Stereo” has “strong tonal elements and heartfelt instrumentation.”
Hardly anyone listens, but I’m armed with one thing that nobody can take away—“Air Stereo” totally fucking rocks. Its prestigiousness in my personal pantheon is outdone only by the very positive reviews it received in the press. However, there is a problem, and that problem is called “Louisville.” Air Stereo’s fifth track, “Louisville” is the proverbial zit on Air Stereo’s supermodel face. Its chorus pines:
“All I wanted was going home
All they gave me was Louisville.”
All I wanted was a perfect album; all they gave me was Louisville.
Gorillaz – Gorillaz
The smash-hit, “Clint Eastwood,” anchors a stellar experiment. The Gorillaz should receive heaps of credit for remaining fluid, but straying from accepted practices is also their biggest drawback. This self-titled album is so good in so many parts, yet lacking so significantly in others that it would be impossible to justify putting it up with the likes of Billy Joel’s finest. Back in 2001, this record was even more revolutionary than it is now, as this group quietly fused the worlds of Massive Attack trip-hop and radio marketability. Still, innovation does not compensate for genuinely boring and subpar filler, and, therefore, “Gorillaz” is spectacular, but second-tier.
Creed – My Own Prison
This album was probably deserving of a spot on the Perfect list, but Creed’s future sins made that impossible: the MTV pandering; “Higher” and “My Sacrifice”—because they’re awful, but mostly because they have the same chorus; a Greatest Hits album; the religious proselytizing; Scott Stapp’s general douchebaggery. Picking on Creed is an easy sport, and if not for their rap sheet, Creed's very laudable debut would get the attention is deserves.
Mark Tremonti (now of Alter Bridge) blueprinted some righteously bone-crushing riffs, the rhythm section romped, and Stapp tapped into an earnestness and poignancy that, on subsequent albums, became bogged down in sap and rhetoric. This ten-cut offering, already a decade old, gave us “Torn,” “What’s This Life For,” “One,” and, of course, the booming title track, “My Own Prison.”
Too bad Creed sucks.
Nirvana - Nevermind
Territorial Pissings. Track 7. The Screaming Song. Call it what you want, but the most important, trenchant, rocking album of the ‘90s is blemished by the least important, doltish, ill-conceived song of the ‘90s. Enough has been said about Nirvana and “Nevermind” to fill many volumes, so reiterating how much we owe the Seattle trio is redundant.
But, to re-use the batting order analogy from “FutureSex/LoveSounds,” “Nevermind” features a delightfully potent 1-6: Smells Like Teen Spirit → In Bloom → Come as You Are → Breed → Lithium → Polly. Then the Cobain gang subjects us to Territorial Pissings, whose name is indicative of everything you have to know about it. A freakish run in grunge rock’s fishnet stockings.
Stay Secondary, Number Twos
Thursday, February 7, 2008
When my brother turned 12, our grandfather sent him a check for $250 and told him to use it for something fun. I was ten and a half, and my brother and I shared a room in the attic. Thankfully, our tastes in music were virtually the same, as was our yearning for a CD player. We’d grown up playing Duke Nukem side-by-side in the computer room, with our cassette-deck boom box broadcasting 92.3 K-ROCK and old tapes. Since we were so young, playing Duke Nukem and listening to cassettes was the coolest thing in the world (ironically, now that we’re in our twenties, it is once again the coolest thing in the world), but we knew what could vault our lives into another echelon of awesome: a Compact Disc machine. We used to scour the Sunday circulars for Sony Dream Machines and portable CD players, and once in a while—if we worked up enough gall—we’d flip to the home stereo pages. We’d imagine ornamenting our room with CD players, mini systems, 5.1 surround sounds, even VCR-TV-stereo triumvirates. We dreamed small, but we dreamed big.
So, when our grandfather sent the $250—an unconscionable amount of money at the time—my brother and I didn’t have to discuss how he’d spend it. We made our mother take us to the local electronics store, and we marched right to the CD players. I started at the high-end equipment, my brother started at the cheap stuff, and we met in the middle to discuss the technological tidings. The look of horror on my mother’s face was something between seeing us run blindfolded across the highway and seeing our canoe approach a perfect storm—she, who in her economic life valued thrift and reasonableness above all else (and still does), was suddenly trapped in a world of adolescent decadence, where her two otherwise unspoiled sons were competing to see who could spend $250 the fastest.
My brother laid out $180 for a small Sony CD boom box, with AM/FM and a tape deck. He carried the treasure out of the store wrapped in both arms, and I made one more excessive demand of my mother: we had to go to a CD store. Since this was our house’s first CD player, we didn’t own any Compact Discs, and we weren’t about to take this new system home without anything to put in it.
What we hadn’t considered was that, outside of our dozen or so tapes and the top-40 hits K-ROCK played, we didn’t know a single thing about music. When we walked into Tower Records (RIP, big fella), we sauntered into a hangar full of strange and unfamiliar music. At the time, of course, neither of us admitted our ignorance, and we both picked up discs and read the backs like we’d seen them a thousand times before. I even made comments about certain ones, like, “Oh, this one is really good,” and, “Yeah, my friend in school has this.” Bewildered and browse-weary, I snuck off to a salesperson to find out how to use the listening stations, and he set me up with “Your Little Secret” by Mellisa Etheridge. It was loud. There were guitars. I was ten and a half. I bought it.
Equally embarrassingly, my brother, also goaded by the listening station, picked up the “Angus” soundtrack, and we were on our way. When we got home, we plugged in the stereo, admired its sheen, sacrificed a virgin, and played “Your Little Secret.” Unbeknownst to us, we were about to become lesbians.
I know what you're thinking baby
I used to be just like you
You move when she's not looking baby
One sugar ain't enough for you
We made the CD player the focal point of our now-siamese existences. We joined every “Buy 100 CDs for 99 cents” service, we only accepted birthday presents in the form of Sam Goody gift certificates, and our Duke Nukem days were over—we were in the attic, obsessing over liner notes and memorizing lyrics. Melissa Etheridge and Angus gave way to the Foo Fighters and Blues Traveler, and, eventually, we formulated certain musical facts: John Popper was fat; guitar solos were cool; loud music was better than quiet music; and, most importantly, CDs were better than tapes in every conceivable way, from how they sounded to how they looked to how long they lasted.
Hence, we were not just lesbians, but geeky lesbians. Driven, infatuated, possessed, geeky lesbians. We could not have been happier.
Not much has changed: we’re still into chicks, we still dig a good album, and our musical tastes haven’t diverged all that much. We live in different countries, and disagree vastly about most things—including lifestyle, religion, and temperament—but we both agree that Stevie Ray Vaughn channels Yahweh on “Texas Flood.” We are separated only by approach, as he compartmentalizes music within the context of well-balanced, prioritized life, while I'm a pretentious addict. But I digress.
So, in honor of my brother, without whom I might never have known an album’s glory, here are the last of the perfect albums:
31 Miles Davis – Bitches Brew
32 Charles Mingus – Mingus Ah Um
33 Eminem – The Eminem Show
34 Coldplay – A Rush of Blood to the Head
35 Audioslave – Audioslave
36 Alanis Morissette – Jagged Little Pill
37 Sublime - Sublime
38 Billy Joel – The Stranger
39 Cream – Disraeli Gears
40 Spin Doctors – Pocket Full of Kryptonite
41 Jay-Z – The Black Album
42 Alice in Chains – Dirt
43 Talking Heads – Stop Making Sense
44 Herbie Hancock – Head Hunters
45 Parliament – Mothership Connection
The Number Twos and some wrap-up are next…we might even break these all down in a bracket, NCAA tournament-style, and declare a winner. Then again, we might get some opium and watch softcore porn. The world is our oyster.
Stay Sleek, Sony
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
The underlying question remains: what is a perfect album? For starters, it’s whatever Jack-O and I say it is. Beyond that, it’s tough to say. Jack-O said a perfect album is one that you’d rather play start-to-finish than for one track—or, he amended later, an album that you’d only play if you had the time to finish it. The theme is gestalt, even holistic: the whole is greater than the sum of its already-great parts.
For me, the definition is more ethereal. There is no one particular criteria for achieving perfection, but such an achievement leaves the listener with a particular feeling. This is the determinant—with an album like Dark Side of the Moon, you just know it’s perfect, whether or not you can point to specific musical or dramatic elements that make it so.
Most important, there is an intrinsic difference between perfect and merely unblemished. The Offspring’s “Smash” is a generally unblemished album, without a glaring shortcoming, and boasts a number of underrated 1990’s anthems. The tracks are pithy and logically ordered. By the time the title track’s half-time chorus accelerates back into its original, faster self, even I—a snobby asshole—have to admit that “Smash” is really good, maybe even great. Without regard for genre or era, it stands as a mistake-free appendage on the musical body.
But is it perfect? Would one insist on listening to the whole thing, rather than just “Bad Habit?” Not necessarily. Would one be adamant about spending a full hour with “Smash” and a beer? Maybe not.
Finally, after the hidden track ends the record, one does not breathlessly opine, “Well, that’s one goddamn amazing album.” You might recommend it to a friend or speak highly of it at a bar, but it doesn’t strike the fanatical fancy as monumental.
On that note, here are 15 more albums that do:
16 Cake – Comfort Eagle
17 Beck – Midnite Vultures
18 DJ Neokase – Return Engagement
19 Ray Charles – The Great Ray Charles
20 Prince – Purple Rain
21 Everclear- So Much for the Afterglow
22-23 Bob Marley – Exodus, Catch a Fire
24 Blues Traveler – Four
25 Chuck Berry – Chuck Berry Twist
26-27 Jimi Hendrix – Are You Experienced, Axis: Bold As Love
28 Tool – Aenima
29 The Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
30 Rage Against the Machine – Rage Against the Machine
Stay Second-Tier, Smash
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
Perhaps this was a little over-ambitious, but my friend Jack-O and I tried to make a list of all the perfect albums ever recorded. We got exactly 45, with a few honorable mentions we called "Number Twos." When the list was complete (read: when we got to our Super Bowl party), we felt it necessary to immortalize our findings.
First, we set the parameters.
Rule number 1: Just because someone is dead doesn't mean their album is great (sorry, Jeff Buckley).
Rule number 2: Even one bad song keeps an album off this list (hence all the Number Twos).
Rule number 3: Live albums don't count. This point was crucial, as Jack-O is the single most idiotically fanatical Grateful Dead fan in New York, and rule number 3 let me keep them off the list.
Then, we massaged our egos.
Assumption number 1: This list is completely exhaustive. We left nothing off, and anything not on the list doesn't deserve to be.
Assumption number 2: This list is completely correct.
Assumption number 3: You will agree with this list.
Then, we watched the Super Bowl.
Observation number 1: The Giants didn't win; the Pats lost.
Observation number 2: The commercials were terrible.
Observation number 3: Someone said Tom Petty, who performed at halftime, looked "like a Nazir." Good times.
For the sake of presenting our choices in no particular order, here are the first 15. The next completely random grouping will be posted later.
1 Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon
2 Marvin Gaye - What's Going On
3 The Postal Service - Give Up
4 Puff Daddy & The Family - No Way Out
5-6 Neil Young - Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, Harvest
7 Ben Harper - Welcome to the Cruel World
8-9 Radiohead - OK Computer, Hail to the Thief
10 Paul Simon - Graceland
11 Led Zeppelin - Houses of the Holy
12 Metallica - Master of Puppets
13-14 Stevie Wonder - Songs in the Key of Life, Innervisions
15 The Counting Crows - August and Everything After
16-30 coming soon...get ready, world.
Stay Stupefying, Super Bowl
Advertising, as I best understand it, prods at our failure to obtain happiness for ourselves. Buy a Toyota, the ads proclaim, and assuage your misery. Wear Sketchers, counter the urban fashionistas, and dress your existentialism in haute couture. Money couldn’t buy love for Paul McCartney, but he’d have you believe that an iPod could. The ad industry is half-chimera, half self-help, and, apparently, not effective enough for PhilosophyWorks.org, whose advertisements on the New York City Subway explicitly hawk happiness.
The agonizing questions float about their advertisement, like falling leaves of curiosity: “Who am I? What am I doing here? How can I be more effective in daily life? How can I be happy?”
A shining sun illuminates these timeless ruminations with beaming stalactites, and a group of amiable, unassuming clouds part in deference to your opportunity—our opportunity—to take a 10-week course at the School of Practical Philosophy exploring these otherwise-unconquerable quandaries.
Terrified of blind consumerism, I weighed my options: next to PhilosphyWorks.org’s purported 10-week cure-all was a large placard trumpeting the City University of New York’s respective anti-AIDS and anti-malaria achievements. A touch ghoulish, and since I was already enrolled in CUNY, lost on me. Next signboard over, the Interboro Technical School was promising, via an ethnically varied polyglot of smiling faces, that a high-salaried position was just an education away. Afterwards, I craned my neck to view an ad behind me; it was tagged by a graffiti artist with the declaration, “2Btru4eva.”
I’m endowed with the same neurotransmitters as everyone else and, therefore, do not claim to be above advertising. I feel a tinge of longing at the automobile that I can’t afford, or the game system with which I might more effectively conquer Nazi Germany. But New York City is too much. Too much advertising, too much product. Too many promises, confusions, and bewilderments. Too much reductive, “If it’s happiness they want, let’s sell them some” reasoning.
I can’t be bought by philosophyworks.org, nor by my own school, for that matter. It’s not because I’m too smart for it, but because I have too much pride to be lured into surrendering to diluted ideas and half-assed commercialism. Happiness might be store-bought, but the stores around here have lost my interest.
If there were one false prophet—one advertisement, and not a single more, that swore to entail happiness—I might go for it. However, the market is so saturated with battling cries for consumerism that the ruse is transparent: if 10,000 companies a day tell me their product will cure my gloom, then I must induce that, in fact, none of them will. It’s simply impossible for them all to be right, so I must assume that they’re all wrong.
Then I’m back at square one, riding the subway alone, once again faced with the grim reality of happiness that cannot be bought. “True” happiness, however dubious a concept that is (happiness for Hitler looks a lot different than happiness for Einstein), exists absolutely outside the realm of things that can be offered on a subway wall.
So sorry, School of Practical Philosophy, but you’re just not practical enough— 2Btru4eva, you need a little more than a shining sun on the F train.
Stay Sold, Sir Paul