Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

The Thomas Jefferson Starship Existentialist Dilemma

March 1, 2008

– The Thomas Jefferson Starship Existentialist Dilemma

I don’t like politics. I think it’s a messy, horrible enterprise. I know, however, that it is a necessary evil. That’s why I keep up with the scary, messy, ugly, occasionally corrupt dealings that are the inner workings of this country very closely. Because of this somewhat masochistic desire, I often wonder if it wouldn’t be best to go into a career in politics, or at least some field that could affect the outcome of this country. Y’know, do some public service or government work or something. It would be more productive than running an entertainment magazine, at least.

That thought runs through my head more often than I would like – I mean, who wants to think that what they’re doing is useless? But I worry about it a great deal. Because when it comes down to it, I am not even entertainment; I am an organization that survives off the covering of entertainment. I’m a second-hand luxury. In the grand scheme of things, Independent Clauses could disappear and not much would change. Is that something I want to dedicate my life to?

Are other people more integral to the world? Is there really a job that is integral to the life of the nation/the world? Would being a politician really do anything? I am just being existential?

I think that politics does matter – it keeps the country running. But if one politician died (even the President), the government doesn’t stop working. The government rolls on, bigger than any individual. But if the government as a whole were to fold, then we’d be in dire straits.

So maybe my goal can be to create something so big that my leaving doesn’t affect its death; To make something for the sake of making it – to build something for the sake of saying “I made that.” Maybe ignore the fact that it’s a second-hand luxury that I’m creating and just focus on the fact that the IC is (will be?) a business, contributing to the economy, which is in itself a vital action that makes me part of the living and dying of this country. I will create jobs – that’s good. That’s meaningful to the economy.

I occasionally feel guilty as well – the whole “to whom much is given, much is expected” thing. I know I’ve been gifted with intelligence and absolutely zero debt. I know that I have the ability to do things. It just so happens that the thing I’m doing right now doesn’t seem like something that people who gave me scholarships would be thrilled about.

But I am thrilled about it. I really am. I love what I do, I love what we stand for, I love all of it. I want it to make money so bad so that this can be what I do for a living. Because if I can’t be doing art, then at least I can be around artists. I always wanted to be in a band; I always wanted to be driving around the country in a van, broke and tired and happy. To me, that’s a necessity; people need entertainment.

Even in the Great Depression there were movies, books and music – even when we as a collective entity had the least amount of money to be spending on luxuries, we were spending on luxuries. Why would we do that? We would because life is hard. We need to be entertained sometimes. Living in entertainment and not dealing with the world is bad for you, but even politicians have favorite movies and music. We need to get out of the violent and painful world sometimes.

And that is what music does for me – transport me out of the violent and painful world. Even if it is the world they are singing about, even if it’s as gritty as real life in the lyrical candor, there’s the fact that other people feel it. And that you can sing along and agree with them, sing together, come together over me and know that you will be okay is a mystery greater than I can understand. I don’t know why we are blessed with this gift, the human voice.

But we are, and it is the thing that keeps me sane sometimes. It keeps me sane now, as I hear John Darnielle (otherwise known as The Mountain Goats) howling “And I am coming back to you! With my own blood in my mouth! I am coming home to you! If it’s the last thing that I do!” That’s “Sax Rohmer #1,” from his new and incredible album Heretic Pride, incidentally. I don’t know who John Darnielle is coming home to. But I do know that I feel the same way right now. I’m coming home to the way I felt before all this got complicated – life, politics, the economy, God, women, friends, responsibility, family, everything.

That’s what’s incredible about music, and all good entertainment. It resonates with us on an emotional level. We all have break-up songs that we keep for if we ever have a break-up (mine: the entirety of Letting Go of a Dream by Josh Caress). We have a favorite crying movie (Little Miss Sunshine), we have a favorite laughing movie (Thank You for Smoking), we have a favorite album to play in the car when you just feel good (There Should Be More Dancing by Free Diamonds). Entertainment is more than just distraction – it helps us feel. It allows us to cry when we wouldn’t otherwise, or helps us to laugh when we otherwise can’t. It’s vital to the survival of our mental states.

We’re only eight years removed from the release of the movie High Fidelity, but when it comes to its ten-year (and 25-year) anniversary editions, I want to be there writing an essay for inclusion in that box set. It sums up the relationship of music and emotions better than any other movie I’ve seen. Rob Gordon is a mess and he knows it. He keeps up with himself by immersing himself in music and his record store. When he gets broken up with, he reorganizes his ridiculously large collection of records. Music is his hitching rack. Music is how he keeps himself together. This should also be where I interject the importance of Christianity in my life, but that’s not the point of this essay. In short, High Fidelity notes that music has so much more pull in our lives than we often admit. It is intricately tied to us, and whoever brings the music into our lives is just as important, in my opinion, as those who affect the other, “more important” areas of our lives.

And being the one who helps bring music is as important, I think, as being in politics. Because whatever politics ends up doing, we need entertainment to cope with it. We need to take action, as well – and I am not advocating reclusive, escapist tendencies. I’m saying that you’re gonna need to cry. I’m saying that as you’re going to protest, you listen to something. Art is vital.

I bring art into people’s lives. I believe what I am doing is important because it facilitates the connection of people with their art. I bring good music. What is good? Good is music that can resonate with people. The better it can connect to people the more it’s important. Does today’s radio music resonate the way radio music in the 70’s did? No, it doesn’t. There’s no protest. There’s no introspection, no self-examination, nothing but sex and gratification.

It’s not like music has to be lofty and huge idealistically to be good – Electric Light Orchestra’s “Hold on Tight” has a goofy verse in what I think is either Japanese or French. The rest of the lyrics don’t stray far from repeating “hold on tight to your dreams.” But it’s still a much deeper and more powerful song musically and lyrically than we have on the radio today.

So yes, I hate politics, because it makes me feel that what I’m doing isn’t important. But I listen to “Hold on Tight,” or Bleach’s hugely underappreciated Again, for the First Time, or the unfairly obscure The Felix Culpa, and I know why I do what I do. I see why it’s important. I feel good about life. …thanks for putting up with it.

Stephen Carradini

Stephen@independentclauses.com

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Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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