Down The Line: Don’t Let The Darkness Eat You Up

I’ve been thinking a bit lately about the personal varying affect of art in general, be it the written word, a piece of music or stenciling on the wall. It’s kind of interesting to get into the motive (as much as one can ‘get into’ the motive) of the love and affectation of any type of aesthetic stimulus. Why do we gaze into any object for an extended amount of time? It can be used as object of analysis, as a stepping stone to greater inspiration for our own output, or lastly, what I find to be the case most often with myself: its amount and height of mental and emotional affectation.

As a musician myself, the vast majority of music I enjoy stems from one of the above: critiquing a performance of Chopin’s Valse Op. 64 No. 2 to better my technical grace as a pianist, listening to acoustic ditties (otherwise known as masterpieces) by Sufjan or Joanna in attempt to improve my songwriting, or dancing around to the Arcade Fire because, well, sometimes a little “Rebellion (Lies)” is all you need on the way home from a tiring day.

However, there are the occasional hidden gems one stumbles upon from time to time that kill in all three categories and beyond. I’ve found “Down The Line” by Swedish-Argentine José González to be one of these. As object of analysis, it’s rhythmic and percussive accents, simple vocal line and walking bass are perfectly fitting. As inspiration, I’m not sure I need to go into much detail here- it’s the concept of ‘beauty in simplicity’ at its finest. In “Notes of a Dirty Old Man,” Charles Bukowski says An intellectual is a man who says a simple thing in a difficult way; an artist is a man who says a difficult thing in a simple way.” José has done this. I can’t and won’t begin to disclose what these unadorned verses mean to me, but maybe you can see for yourself.

 

 

I see problems down the line

I know that I’m right.

There was a dirt upon your hands
doing the same mistake twice
making the same mistake twice

Come on over, don’t be so caught up
It’s not about compromising.
I see problems down the line
I know that I’m right

I see darkness down the line
I know it’s hard to fight.
There was a dirt upon your hands
doing the same mistake twice
making the same mistake twice.

Come on over, be so caught up, it’s all about colonizing.

I see problems down the line
I know that I’m right.

Don’t let the darkness eat you up  

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As The Spirit Wanes, or The Hope of Plasticity

“As the spirit wanes, the form appears.”

I first came across these words four years ago, in the art blog of a dear friend. I’ve been in love with Charles H. Bukowski ever since. Though his lifestyle was not one I’d recommend, I cannot convey the number of times I found him not only utterly poignant, but encouraging.

When I began this blog, I promised to explain why I chose those specific words as my title. I suppose the “form” is finally fighting its way to the surface. There is no decorative or esoteric way to say this: the past few months have been the most challenging of my life. I never imagined that so many diverse manifestations of loss and grief existed. During the two weeks leading to August, I lost three separate individuals, all whom I loved very deeply. My father’s death has been the most horrifying by far.

During his final weeks in the oncology ward, I witnessed quite a few examples of how people deal with fear, pain and grief: often to a paralyzing extent. I’ll always remember Kay, the beautiful old woman staying with her husband in the room next to my dad’s. I must have walked past her room twenty times before I found the courage to say hello, and offer her a hug and condolences. We spoke a few times during my stay-why is it so hard, we wondered, to just let go? Love and death are the two most naturally-occurring phenomena we can know, and yet they never fail to leave us cold and nearly unable to breathe.

So why Music psychology? Why neuroscience or philosophy? Why “as the spirit wanes?” Though I experienced a good deal of physical and mental pain in the last year, I feel as if I have almost been numb a vast portion of the time. A sort of desperate numbness, to be sure, but numbness nevertheless. I was unaware of the potential for evolution, development, and vitality all around me. I do not know what’s happened, but then I suppose I do. My spirit has never been so broken, so trampled, or terrifically damaged. I have not been myself the past year, and I’m ready for it to change. The concepts I have recently come to grasp not only allow but demand for revolution such as this.

I’ll never forget during my junior year of college, I was required to take a philosophy course. I dreaded it beyond all else. Though my mother had given me exposure to Jungian psychology from the cradle, in terms of philosophy, I felt my brain just might not “work” that way.

However, within a day of the class I was addicted and desperate for more. I had been re-exposed to the most basic form of existentialism: if we are responsible for our actions, we also then have the freedom not only to choose, but to transcend. As someone who’d grown up alongside the great crusade of mania and depression, this was news to me. What did they mean, I could choose? Though I’d eventually declined, I’d once been told I might benefit from medication to control depression and emotionally-destructive impulses. Medication or not: for the very first time in my life, I found a freedom to transcend my demons: psychical, neural and emotional. I certainly felt and digested emotion in much the same way, but with a unique freedom in my reaction to discord. I was no longer bound in paralyzation or fear. A couple of years later, I have once more found a like freedom, only infinitely more radical in the concept of Brain Plasticity.

As this dares reach too long a confession, I shall save the specifics of why I have found hope in Neuroscience, plasticity and its potential courtship with music for future posts. But what I have learned, and lived, is this: As the spirit wanes, the form appears. It is truly when we are beaten near beyond the point of recognition that we are then forced to give up, or forced to continue. Inertia demands not only motion, but action; consciousness. One may remain static for only so long. I choose to go forward. We can no longer think of our brains, our neuronal selves, as but flexible and anonymous; as machine. We must affirm our capacity for change and confess our plasticity: evolutionary, adaptive, explosive. We must no longer consent to depression via disaffiliation; to be “blind to our own cinema.” Our brains tell us a story-whether we choose to listen or not. Karl Marx once stated “Humans make their own history, but they do not know that they make it.” And why not? What type of fear or unknown is stopping us from this earth-shattering consciousness of what our brains can do?

I will continue soon in conjunction with a more formulated response to Catherine Malabou’s pioneering work, “What Should We Do with Our Brain?” in speculation of a metaphorical and ideological critique of plasticity.

“…At bottom, neuronal man has not known how to speak of himself. It is time to free his speech.” -Catherine Malabou