“We are meant to travel lightly through this world.”
– Elizabeth Kübler-Ross
Chromesthesia brings colors into the room with music. Like a lot of musicians, I live in a rushing world of too vivid and too funny, with a broken heart and a pounding pulse to match my drummer’s flailing arms. It’s all we know, intense but invisible; fish can’t see the water they swim in and they probly think everyone is a fish. Everyone has their particular water, is their particular kind of fish. The water we swim in was pouring out of the speakers in an LA control room last night when the guy recording next door walked in, rolling his eyes.
Meet the Transparent Man, he whispered, you will see right through him.
An empty-eyed hunger followed him in, both sycophantic and narcissistic, said he wanted to hear what we were working on, though I could tell he didn’t. A Halloween costume of a wunderkind label rep, a plastic bag with a picture of American teeth and a fat wallet on it. No anachronism dies forever. Look away at the end of your horror movie and it comes rearing up behind you. Aw, crap. Sort of exactly what you’d think, a walking question: what matters? And always coming up with the wrong answer: attention. Not focus but, what’s everyone else looking at?
Who the fuck is “everyone else?”
The musician looked stricken. He once told me that whenever he heard the term “gracious loser” he remembered both his calling and his people. The two most important aspects of a personality held in balance by that one image. I’m feeling some…you know, hate, he hissed. He’s just. Such. An asshole.
He’s not smart enough to be an asshole, I whispered back. He’s just an ass.
I could tell from my friend’s face that this didn’t help. If that guy didn’t like his record, no one would hear it and he might never make another. I shrugged at him. So don’t make records. Your songs’ll matter more.
Willing to sell your soul? How do you sell soul to the soulless? I could feel his fear: Why is this dummy in charge? It’s deeply disappointing to see someone walk shallow talk, though it cements your beliefs. Jesus, you think, try harder. Or stop trying. Or something. Just quit it, wake up.
It shouldn’t be laughable because there’s so much at stake; dummies are capable of horror because, without depth, they don’t know what’s at stake. But…we still laugh. People who’re about attention can’t pay attention. If there is a god, she’s hilarious. Sort of.
Shot me back to a different LA. Years ago: old story, us achingly bored, slumped in vinyl chairs at a major label, waiting for some guy whose name we couldn’t remember – Steve probly, they were all Steve – to show up and say he’d been so goddamn busy, things’d been fucking wild at the show/party/award ceremony/dinner – name drop names – we all attended last night, everybody but you pretty much, what a blast/pain in the ass/but I’ve been there, don’t think I haven’t, wasn’t impressed and this crazy as shit guy – insert drug and alcohol related zaniness – and this hangover, I’m always either wasted or hungover except also? I’m pretty goddamn enlightened, don’t think I’m not – gaze contemplatively at Buddhist water feature for a few seconds – insert reference to meditation retreat/spiritual advisor with bestselling book/meaningful relationship with idiot/close bond with children he doesn’t seem to have met – sorry I’m late, by the way, don’t really value your time, which makes me bigger than you plus, you know, LA traffic – insert reference to expensive car/neighborhood/yoga studio/restaurant – also NY traffic – insert reference to Manhattan and repeat the whole thing.
Like I said, pretty much what you’d think. They seemed to want to be cartoons, to keep up with the other cartoons. Put their cardboard cutout up over someone else’s.
Our LA sunshine smiles always faded a few hours into this, an easy analogy for the musician- corporate relationship. We were mostly there for the free food and the winter sunshine, so thick, ochre and cool. We also thought we could request a different marketing strategy: respect for the listener. Sell the music, not the musician. Didn’t wanna trick people who don’t need this life soundtrack, don’t need to swim in this particular water, into buying records they’d never love. We’d reach our people instead of alienating them with shallow, trust them to come back. We’d make friends. Well, music would.
America is such an experiment. How do we make friends here? Meaningless minutes or infinite feedback loops? People know what companies often don’t: of course you can fool dummies, they’re easily fooled. And for that reason, they bring nothing to the table. They also wander off. Go for the feedback, the loop, the circle over the straight line headed nowhere. Not a new idea, by any means, to reach your audience by refining it, impact over units, making it appear smaller while viewing it through the lenses of time and substance…it’s still considered unworkable, though. Mostly a lack of patience or interest in quality, just wanting to make a splash and then another splash. Oddly, without any water. Kids figure this out in kindergarten. Cool kids, anyway. Connection should matter. It’s how we continue to care. And when you stop caring, you stop caring. Death by dumb.
This particular Steve didn’t show, so we had a meeting without him:
I don’t want to attract attention, it feels awful.
Too much is embarrassing. It just means you’re a jerk or you made some weird mistake. Striving for it dilutes your work.
So? Who are we?
Nobody. We want to be loved? Not liked?
Perfect is…what? It really, really matters. To one person.
Ok. I’ll listen to you and you listen to me.
This was back in time, but we remember it because we just had the same conversation. A kind of shallow we thought was geographically based: the urban hubris of keeping up, a life without nature, seemed to make people stupid. Missing the point every day, then waking up and deciding to miss it again. It’s definitely a choice. You can find them everywhere, people who make cosmic jokes less funny. Yeah, one is the president, but his haters aren’t necessarily free, either. This new Steve, happy to swim through gloss and muck, loved Trump more than any Republican ever could: I found a dummy dumber than me, which makes me smart. Which it doesn’t. No one is free to wash their hands of morality. Like the president, New Steve’d been given some power to wield. Over music, of all things.
Real runs too deep to respond with more than a ripple, but it can be dressed in a way that confuses people. For some reason, documentary plus soap opera equals reality tv: melodrama quashes drama in their hands. Be very careful around these people, see through them. It’s easy, they’re transparent. The musician who’d pointed this out watched creepy, happy water color pour out of the speakers and smiled. It’s ok, he said, opening his arms to the noise, because sometimes people do this.
New Steve left, still hungry, and we wondered about pity as we warned each other against following the Devil down any holes: The emperor’s new clothes are a lousy Halloween costume. Don’t miss your life.
We decided there was nothing to pity because Steve isn’t being Steve this year – possibly this lifetime – no one is truly without depth. There are millions of this guy, across the race and gender spectra and in all political parties; he’s not a person but a failure. He’s us when we fail to fight ourselves, projecting our battles onto the outside. A handy device when you want to both denounce and engage in a behavior. But you fool no one. Because the world is not a corporation. Not a lobster tank, either, though it can feel like one and that makes people nervous enough to devalue special. Special is the reason we’re here. To live our idiosyncratic impressions of the universal. There aren’t really any dummies. Greed is a confusion, an untruth.
Our own splashing party kicked back in when we left the dry counting of corporate to jump into the water; a rushing, chromasthetic spewing. Ludicrous, so painful laughter. Genuine loss, so painful tears, too. We’re not evolved or enlightened, just here. Really here. We’re angry and terrified and there is futility in us and frustration, but a giddiness in cold rain tears and hot sun laughing and the guts we share. You cram all that into a worldview and it sounds like beautiful noise. I imagine that all beautiful noises at once are a black hole of silence, but I’m not there yet.
We sometimes need to replay our conversations to remember how to step back into the light, attract no attention: focus. We don’t give a shit because we care so deeply. This is true of everyone, it’s just sometimes overlooked in the crash of others, because we’re all in it together. Mission is everywhere, but it’s rarely eye-catching. A calling is just so private and it moves too fast to be pinned down. We all have them, don’t look away from yours. Share it if you feel like it, but remember that medicine is only good for those who need it.
This water is pouring out of the speakers and I know how lame it is to call music water, but that’s what it is. It’s also air; some kind of breathing.
One love, no likes.