Crocodile Rockin’

Yeah, Elton John asked if we remember when was rock was young (that’s a great song, by the way), but lately I’ve been thinking back on when rock was fun.

Something’s happened to me over the past couple of years: rock ‘n’ roll isn’t very much fun anymore.  Neither, for that matter, is writing.  For someone who honestly and firmly believes that a he was created to love rock ‘n’ roll and to string words together, this is troubling to say the least.  At the most, it’s terrifying: I don’t know how to do anything else.  And that’s probably the way that it should be.  If I were able (or really wanted) to do anything else, I wouldn’t do what I’m supposed to do.

But back to my purposeful mis-hearing of that Elton John lyric.  I do remember when rock was fun.  The last time I can remember a truly sustained sense of enjoying listening to music, of blaring it at full volume because it was fun and not because it meant something, maaan (more on that in a bit), is the summer of 2005.  I was living in New Orleans and working full-time at Twiropa (RIP), which meant that not only was I being paid to sit at a desk and watch bands play, but I had absolutely nothing to do with my days until 9 pm when the bar opened.  So what did I do?  I drove around the French Quarter and CBD in Shannon’s Jeep and blared Iggy Pop, Trail of Dead, the Walkmen, and a few others at full volume.  I’m talking windows-down, throat-bleeding, tourists-staring kind of volume.  Was it a bit antagonistic to, say, yell all of the words to “Lust for Life” at passersby from Kansas?  Yeah, probably.  But it was also a great time, a very fun time, and it speaks at least a bit to that one aspect of art that I keep forgetting, the one that hooks all of us to begin with: it’s entertaining.

What happened next, as most of you probably know, is that I became a Christian, Hurricane Katrina moved me to LSU in Baton Rouge from UNO in New Orleans, and I became much more serious about spending the rest of my life with a pen in my hand (or keys under my fingers, if you will).  While some may scoff at the notion, LSU is a decidedly more intellectual place than UNO, at least in terms of classroom discussion.  People at LSU (and profs) are much smarter than they are given credit for; no one in my classes ever really skated by on bullshit, and if they did, it was well-informed and reasonably argued bullshit.  That shift was one of my favorite things about LSU, and it’s one of the reasons that, in the event I become famous, I will spend my capital on the University.  At the same time, though, it wasn’t the best easiest environment for someone in my situation: a newly-converted Christian with self-image issues.  Determined to not be one of “those” people (a fuzzy, grey Christian archetype that I’ve realized isn’t much different from the average human being, Christian or not), I turned the thought portion of my brain way up, and the feeling portion way down.  I pursued thought — whether philosophical, theological, musical — first and foremost, determined to craft informed opinions and, to be honest, to be taken seriously.  I wasn’t about to let something like Jesus stand in the way of being taken seriously.  In other words, I let some splinter of the cross dig an intellectual chip into my shoulder.  (Completely ignoring the fact that Western culture, thought, art, and literature are shaped almost entirely by Christians until the Enlightenment, which turned out to only be good for the faith).

All of this, this fear of not being taken seriously, of being brushed off as a holy fool, led to my abandoning most of the music that I had fun listening to.  Music was no longer something entertaining, or something that spoke to the heart.  It became an apologetic at best, or at least a vehicle for truth.  Now, hear me right: I still believe that music can be those things, and my favorite artists are the ones who do that very thing while actually making music that I can enjoy listening to; call it Truth with a backbeat).  Noticing something of a trend in rock criticism, I began to pay more and more attention to lyrics (not an entirely bad thing) and less and less attention to the way that the music made me feel.  This is something of a gnostic concern, this belief (and it was/is a strong belief of mine) that the head is more important than the heart, that the rational far outweighs the irrational.

It also affected the way I write.  I’ve always enjoyed writing, but I began to write more and more about ideals and concepts and thoughts, hanging characters on them at the last minute and attempting to pass off a stocked coat rack as a human being.  My writing (particularly from my last semester of school, when my insecurities came to a head) has been very lifeless, very bland, and not much fun to read.  It was/is even less fun to write.  Which makes sense, really.

So it’s been a nice thing being in Los Angeles.  I’ve never been more anonymous in my life.  Realizing almost immediately that I have no “legend,” no image to live up to, I’ve been able to step back and look at what I’ve created.  And what I’ve created does not have any fun.  I think that this came to a head when Ken Heffner, my future boss at Calvin College, told me that they’d booked the synth/dance group Ratatat to play on campus this coming fall.  Ratatat’s songs are wordless, mindless dance songs.  Unlike other instrumental groups like Explosions in the Sky or Godspeed You! Black Emperor, their music doesn’t inspire thoughtful contemplation, nor does it provoke feelings of melancholy or intense beauty.  It’s fun.  That’s all. Consider my mind blown.

All of this to say that I think I’m on my way back to something good, something fun.  I don’t know that this post really does a good job of articulating all of this, so maybe I’ll try it again sometime.  What I do know is this: rock ‘n’ roll, art, literature, etc, should be entertaining.  It should be thought-provoking, it should bring us places emotionally that we otherwise couldn’t get to.  This is how we identify with people who aren’t like us and who have been through things we don’t understand.  It’s also a way that we can be consoled and met in our low-lying areas.  Do I believe that God is sovereign over this, that He uses music in this way?  Absolutely.  But I’m starting to believe that it’s not the only way that He uses it; I’m starting to believe that sometimes, He wants us to have fun.  Maybe that’s not the shock to the system for you that it’s been for me, and for that I congratulate you (seriously).  But it’s a new day for me, and the sun is up in California.  I have a mix-tape to listen to.

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