Monday, November 27, 2006

abuse your illusion

Here’s another ex-girlfriend segue, though this particular relationship wasn’t horrible or traumatic. Actually, it was nice for the most part, and she’s a good, decent human being that I still have a lot of respect for. (Unfortunately, it did become the first evidence/casualty of The Danny Relationship Pattern. But I’ll get into that another time.)

Anyway, the girlfriend was a devout Buddhist. I’ve always found Buddhism fascinating (still’s the one “religious” philosophy that resonates at least partially with me). She gave me some books to read and taught me a little about it. In turn, I joined her on many occasions in chanting, meetings with her local group, and the very occasional “service” at the Dallas whatever-it’s-called Center over in Oak Lawn.

(Digression Time: It was at the last service I attended that I mentally ran screaming from this group in particular and the practice altogether. I have seriously negative opinions about religion – not about the concept of being religious [I’m actually quite envious of that], but of organized religion and the dogma and group dynamic that are associated with it. I feel the same about most other “ism’s,” for that matter [Ferris Bueller was right]. It just became apparent to me that this group and the larger, worldwide group to which they belong, were entirely too “religious” for my taste. At some point, though, I will get back into reading and exploring the concepts again because Buddhism is quite a respectable and honorable value system. Now back to the story.)

I mention this because one of the stupidest music-related comments I’ve ever heard was made at one of the Buddhist group’s meetings. I forget the part of the conversation that eventually led up to this nugget, but there was this one woman who was talking about somebody listening to very loud and/or aggressive music in his or her car. And she said something to the effect of, “How can anyone consider themself a happy person if they listen to such angry music?”

My immediate reaction was somewhere around, “Okay, you’re an idiot, lady. So shut the fuck up.” Though, I didn’t say it aloud, of course. But as you can tell from the fact that I still think about it to this day, my internal commentary was not enough. The more I thought about it, the more annoyed it made me. You might be thinking, “Perhaps you’re proving her point...?” And I can see why you would, given the evidence: I listen to loud and/or angry music quite often, I am not widely considered to be the happiest person in the world (but nor am I the unhappiest), there’s that look on my face that I mentioned before, and, obviously, if one random comment can crawl up my ass and stay there for years, perhaps I have some trouble just, you know...letting things go.

The evidence is convincing, yes. However, it’s also circumstantial and totally irrelevant to this case. Because the reason her comment was so mind-bogglingly dumb...okay, well, there are a lot of reasons why it was dumb. I guess the reason I found it most offensive, though, was that it implied that anger has no place in art. I mean, if angry music makes someone an angry person, wouldn’t angry movies, television, literature or painting do the same?

To me, that’s exactly what she was saying...that anger is not a proper inspiration for art, or at least not a motivation that should be encouraged or rewarded. But, god, can you imagine the works of art that we would not have the privilege to experience if anger hadn’t provoked creative people into expressing themselves? (You know, I started to list a few examples, but I literally cannot think of a single artist in any medium who hasn’t created works at least partially inspired by anger...)

Anger is a necessary - and unavoidable - member of the mental entourage that includes happiness, lust, envy, shame, pride, boredom, loneliness, sadness, reverence, etc. If your idea of enlightenment means that you think you can be somehow cured of feeling something that every human being on this planet experiences on a shuffling, rotating basis...well, I think you’re going to end up disappointed. (Which is another unavoidable emotional necessity, by the way.)

Was she suggesting that she was a completely happy person? That she never had angry thoughts or emotions? (Come to think of it, she did always kinda act like her volume knob was permanently set to three or something in a weirdly robotic way...) If she’s that much of a walking smiley-faced automaton, she’d make a damn good candidate for some goofy religious cult (no offense intended). Or the Republican Party (okay, that was on purpose).

The truth of the matter is what she probably meant to say was, “God, that shit is obnoxious.” Which is fine. But I’d be willing to bet she enjoys Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain,” for example. Who doesn’t? It’s a fantastic song. It’s also one hella angry song. It just so happens that the pissed off words being sung are to a melody that doesn’t betray much of the lyrical discord.

So why am I bringing this subject up, anyway?

Well, mostly it’s because I’m bummed that a band I truly love – who communicated various forms of anger, aggression, angst, and other dark shit that starts with “a” as well as almost anyone ever has – has ceased to exist. True, they still exist as far as the name goes. But that’s just a formality, as far as I’m concerned. Actually, this article pretty much sums where they’re at now (musically speaking, as it’s a couple days old)...

...The Trail of Dead were absolutely ferocious at times, both on record and live. Probably the best thing about them was their ability to walk a tight-rope between chaos and serenity...some moments of just total thrash and other moments of truly breathtaking, almost symphonic music (occasionally at the same time). And they did it unlike any other band I’ve heard. (Sonic Youth comes closest, but they’ve never been quite so deliberate about it.) Not to mention that they made you have to think about where you wanted them arranged on your alphabetized CD shelf (“A” or “T”...hmmm)...

I was pretty disappointed when Neil Busch, their bass player, quit the band a couple years ago, since many of my favorite Trail of Dead songs were written (or at least sung) by him. He cited health issues or some such at the time. In hindsight, it might have been an increasingly controlling ego that was making him sick.

Next came the release of a record called “Worlds Apart.” It was underwhelming at best. But more than that, it reminded me exactly of what the music started sounding like when Billy Corgan became a complete egomaniac, decided he was Smashing Pumpkins, and started releasing mostly unlistenable, self-important crap. That’s what the bulk of that Trail of Dead record (and almost everything after “Siamese Dream”) was...a self-indulgent jerk-off. I had hoped “Worlds Apart” would be an isolated episode of experimentation or something. But now that I’ve heard parts of all the songs on the new record...nope. It’s precisely what I feared: Conrad Keely has become Billy Corgan. Wonderful.

Of course, I can’t confirm my theory that the Trail of Dead have become Conrad’s vanity project, but that’s certainly what it sounds like (musically) to me. He is an enormously talented person who’s written some amazing music. He’s also an incredibly good visual artist (all the Trail of Dead album covers and art direction were his, and he recently created the album cover for fellow Austin band The Sword)...just in case there were any folks who didn’t feel inadequate enough. But it’s one thing to know you’re bursting at the seams with talent...that’s fine. It’s when you begin to think you’re the only talent that you have a problem and can destroy whatever made you great to begin with. (Just ask the Guns and Roses guys.)

And so – just like that – that gloriously singular ability to make anger sound so beautiful is gone. Damn.

So...into lala-land that last Trail of Dead album goes. And I won’t be buying the new one, obviously. Guess I’ll have to pick a new Favorite Texas Band. I’d choose the Baptist Generals or the Damnations in a heartbeat if they both weren’t so...whatever the opposite of prolific is. In the meantime, I will be accepting applications.

R.I.P., A.Y.W.K.U.B.T.T.O.D...

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