Observational Comedy, Electronica, and the usual suspects

This is long but. Stuff. Things.

I’ve never been a huge fan of electronic music. It’s nothing against the artists, more or less, but rather the culture I’ve always perceived around it. I’ve always seen it as self-indulgent, hedonistic, and, above all else, privileged. I know DJ’s, hard-working artists, and a few wonderful people who are fans of some form of EDM or another. It’s just never seemed like something “for me” and that’s ok.

That said, in doing some research on another topic today, I ran across a story about the death of Avicii. The Swedish artist was one of a select few in the genre that I could appreciate. So much so that during one of my more trying times between 2013 and 2015 I listened to a fair bit of his work (and that of collaborator, Aloe Blacc). I found the words, such that they were, uplifting and enough to get me moving when it was once again difficult for me to find a reason to get out of bed in the morning.

It seems like more and more people who tried to distill hope by creating art out of their own frustrations and difficulties have found themselves at a point of late where there was none left. It leaves me, as I am in my own currently renewed existential plight, pondering what the point of all this mess is.

For a long time I’ve held the belief that we as people have some innate purpose on this dirt clod we call Earth. We may not know it but after enough time and some perspective I think it comes into a little more relief. At the same time, though, I’ve also believed that when our work is more or less complete our card gets punched. The method doesn’t really matter. It just is what is.

But this is all within the larger framework of my own self-reflection (read: indulgence; navel-gazing) as I try to control my spin out of what was a, more or less, comfortable orbit for about a decade. I’ve thought about where I am now, what I need, and where I’ve come from.

If you’ve followed along, you already know where I am but where I’m from, for me, continues to evolve which I guess proves we are never that far from the ground in which we first sprang up. I realized what may sound like an uncomfortable truth but in reality is actually kind of relieving because it has informed me a bit on why I am “me” and why I have always been this person. I hope it will help me manage that better in future.

I love my mom for everything she provided to me growing up but one thing I’ve come to understand is that I picked up some of her habits (as I see them), as you do, that came to manifest in not so great ways for me. I worry a lot about the future and sometimes forgot about “now”. I get anxious about things way beyond my control. If something seems too difficult I tend to turtle and distract myself, frittering away time as if its mere passage will solve whatever the problem is. I tend to put things off when they can be done quickly and simply. And like many people, these traits in others tend to bug me. It’s always when we see the traits we don’t like in ourselves reflected back at us that we tend to react, no?

Built out of that last trait I realized, though, that there was another piece. I avoid strife and confrontation, if at all possible. I know this is largely born out of the period when I was very young and my mom and dad’s marriage was disintegrating. I didn’t really have any handle on what was happening, just that, eventually, my dad was gone and he never came home. I hated him for a long time for that.

As I grew older, though, I came to understand that my mother and I (and him, ultimately) were better off. I am so grateful for the resilience that I saw in her as she worked to support us both. You don’t have too much time for drama when you’re focusing in on your own survival (yes, dear, if you read this I’m softly chuckling, sighing, and nodding at the “irony”).

However, I realize now that my mother didn’t have time for anyone else’s drama which included me and whatever feelings were spinning off tornadoes inside my psyche as I went from 5 to 25. I never really learned to express my feelings except through writing, reading, and music and that didn’t even truly come around until around the age of 13 which was a big year (1990-91) for me.

This was when I picked up my first guitar and started my first band. We did some things, we had some fun, but foremost, I began to express myself outside my own bedroom. I had no idea how to really relate but who does at that age? I began exploring authors and more varied music. I pushed boundaries and yadda yadda yadda. Overall, I was a moody teenager with some aptitude for these forms of expression and mired in, essentially, undiagnosed depression and existential angst.

What this meant, though, was that I didn’t have anyone I could talk to about the thoughts bouncing around in my brain. Further, I didn’t think I should. There was a shame in it, for me, that I could have, materially, everything I could need and yet an emptiness I could never resolve inside. None of this was something I could even articulate then even if I had been asked. However, if someone, anyone, had glanced through my notebooks or lyrics or collections of books and music, they’d have noticed a theme – one of dark cynicism.

I would often cover this up with a voracious appetite for knowledge and new experiences then being able to relate these things to people rather than what was “going on” with me. No one, in my opinion at the time, seemed terribly interested in *me* but they did take an interest in music or movies or verboten topics for our era and age. But I also used another common tool that the depressed use to hide: humor.

As much as I was raised by my mother, music, books, and so on, I was also “raised” by a small cadre of comedians who I would listen to or watch over and over again. George Carlin and Robin Williams became something like father figures to me. There were others but these two were central for me, the former for his inquisitive style and ability to link disparate topics in one narrative, the latter for his ability to laugh at life’s absurdities and tragedies in ways that made you forget about how dark a thing was that you were laughing about.

And so, this is where this sprawling thought train has been headed: I observed about a week ago in the classroom with my kids, that I have begun to lean on comedy; singing, dancing, clowning around, with the intent to break the ice and get them to re-focus when they become bored or distracted or whatever other condition is keeping them from what we need to accomplish on a given day. Without thinking, the first day I burst into a piece of a song from Aladdin. We all had a good laugh and settled into some riveting math homework.

A few days later I noticed my pattern of being very “up” with my students and then… well, most of what you read here when I am at home alone at night. Over the past few days I’ve been sitting with the comparison, the duality, and noticing it’s one that Robin had talked about before in interviews. It’s also there in the lyrics of Tim Bergling. An appearance of joy to try to uplift others while simultaneously trying to extinguish the inner demons with light.

Sometimes they wear sunscreen, long sleeves, and shades.