I’ve been concerned with my writing for a while now. I always considered myself above average in my ability to articulate abstract thoughts, but I’ve been increasingly concerned I was lacking that step to the “next level”. More alarming was a creeping notion that I had actually lost some of my capacity for the craft. It was a notion that became glaringly obvious yesterday when a close friend of mine simply changed her Facebook status to “Life altering music recommendations, anyone? My pod is beginning to age need some new blood”.
For the past fourteen years I’ve spent the better part of my life thinking about, writing about and playing music. In college these passions lead me to submit music/cultural columns to my schools paper and a few underground zines. At the same time I developed the lucrative business of providing pricey cognitive labor to friends/associates on any unwanted homework assignments. The price was determined by my knowledge of the subject, page requirement, due date, and interest. When she posted her status I knew I had written some pieces on music I really loved. The problem was that the bulk of that work had been done on a laptop that crashed a year ago. I combed my external hard drive for any relics that may have been salvaged (Laur, if you reading, this is why your list is restricted to the 2003-2007 spectrum). As I read through the small sample I came to the conclusion that my writing has absolutely dissolved into academic jargon and flashy syntax. A short article I wrote on Arcade Fire’s sophomore album Neon Bible illuminated the conjectural toxic of my writing.
I offered her the following condensed version of the review (this was a Facebook post… which I knew I was going to catch shit for this length, never mind the whole thing)
I know, I know “Funeral” is the one everyone is supposed to like, it was filled with catchy, cathartic, personal anthems. “Neon Bible” is darker. It’s slow, tense, ominous and foreboding. It’s the sound of a one-time theology student struggling with the world’s addiction to religion and consumption. It was an insider’s take on America from the outside (Win grew up in the States but moved to Montreal for college). The album came out at a time when I felt absolutely betrayed by a country that was descending into Neoliberal rhetoric and fanatically paranoid commentary. But that’s not to suggest its all doom and gloom. If you listen closely , all the wrongs illuminated in “Neon Bible” also serve as a reminder of what it is great, what is worth getting out of your bed each morning.
This is not an ego boost. I don’t think this is great writing, but it addresses the culture/politic binary in a language that is accessible, and maybe, just a little enjoyable? I want to get back to that. So I’ve decided to try and make this the space to do so. It is more for me than for any hopes of developing readership (beyond my beautiful and supportive girlfriend or some confused sports fanatics looking for an article by my dad).
I decided my first effort was to write a reaction to the Neon Bible piece. Not about the music (though we are about due), but my social consciousness of then vs. now.
When I think back to those years there is something of a black cloud. Not because I was struggling with any personal demons, on the contrary I was spending my summers on beautifully delicate (and drunken) island, enjoying the latter half of my college career, and in a combination of business and leisure enjoyed the luxury of traveling to four different continents in a sixteen month period. At the same time I was becoming increasingly aware of the world around me, my role in it, and the many horrors humanity hides in its closet(the extensive travel certainly helped). In particular, those years exposed me to foreign appraisals of the United States under the Bush administration. In Australia, a girl on the bus started talking to me. After the regular small-talk you start with a cute stranger she asked me if all American’s were as crazy as the ones she saw in Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It was a joke, but one that commented on the view of America’s sordid methodology.
The Neon Bible article has a certain vernacular to it. It was clearly written by someone coming to believe the system was seriously dysfunctional. People become more politically aware as they become more invested in a shared society, essentially as we get older we pay more attention to our surroundings. At the time of writing the Neon Bible review I thought I was making the shift from teenager to adult (I’m still reluctant to use that word to describe myself) in interesting but ruinous times, and my writing showed it. Just about every article at that time had a certain “Rome is burning” feel to it. From my current vantage point I know that’s something of a fallacy. Pick any year over the last half of the century and I bet I could find indications that some end was near. The first oil shocks; inconclusive wars; race riots; polluted air and water; the first and only U.S. presidential resignation. Anyone between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five during any of these moments surely thought “Holy Shit…This is horrible! It was so much easier when I was ten”. But on a grand scale it wasn’t.
This is not to discredit the composition that is Neon Bible. Nor a retract of my album critique. I still believe it perfectly diagnosed many of the anxieties and hopes of the time. Kid A prophetically prepped for the beginning of the decade, Arcade Fire perfectly understood the polarizing politics and exaggerated complaints that would lead us out of the 2000’s. In hindsight, I think celebrities like Oprah had little to do with President Obama’s election , indie bands like Arcade Fire were voicing the public’s grievances and organizing mobilization long before.
I think I’m content with the above as an intro.
My hope is to make daily writing assignments for myself. Since I’m in the process of writing a thesis; looking for jobs once my contracts end in Feb; trying to have a social life, I’ve posted this to the pubic with the idea that others will help generate conversation and ideas for writing.