…and worrying if there’s anything beyond it

The iPod helped, to an extent. Vacationing in Australia and New Zealand, I stuffed it with eleven days worth plus of music, mostly stuff I had sitting around that I had barely heard or just not heard at all. There were some exceptions, but mostly I wanted to hear things to break me out of a bit of a rut. And it did at that, somewhat – hearing things like Mya’s “Case of the Ex” made me appreciate just how fluid and strong that particular arrangement was, while there was some Britney song from the first album which had a winsomely goofy little charm. Then there was the Neutral Milk Hotel obscuro thing which was miles better than most anything I had heard from them before, and which sounded as good a descendant of Loveless as anything, always a fine sign in my book.

So it helped, and I think I’m…improving. Certainly I really like the new Madonna song, for instance (screw the lyrics, it’s all about the enforced glitch stutter), which is especially gratifying given how she has spent most of the last ten years causing me to wonder what the hell her problem is. I might finally get around to listening to Interpol one of these days as well. And this and that and the other.

But I’m not quite there yet, and will I ever be? See, the thing is, I don’t know if I will – and I’m not entirely sure if I want to be.

And where is there? It’s a state of mind, one that isn’t really about listening to new music per se or transgressing boundaries in the head or all that. It’s something far more precious to me than I realized, the more so because I just don’t have it yet, and maybe I lost it a long time ago and will never get it back.

I thought, a few months ago, that it was just a disenchantment from new music in particular, from feeling that the wheels were grinding to a complete and utter halt on a lot of fronts. Nothing felt at all fresh or interesting or worthwhile, but that was just silly talk in my head. For one thing, I remember how I felt at, say, twelve or sixteen, when what was on the radio or MTV was crucial and critical for me – was my music. The twelve or sixteen year old out there right now will be finding similar reaches and virtues and reactions in the things that got my goat, therefore I need to relax.

But it didn’t explain why so many of my friends and contemporaries were feeling either satisfied or argumentative or hyped-up for discussing when I didn’t and I didn’t want to. I saw and felt a dragging grey horizon in my head, and the pop wonderland wasn’t. I wanted to stop right where I was. I wanted to hunker down and just listen to what I wanted to listen to and fuck the zeitgeist. Fuck it, fuck it FUCK IT. Just shut the hell up and die already. I want to listen to the new Peter Murphy and old Slowdive B-sides and I don’t give a flying damn and fuck whoever makes some sort of goth joke because it’s not goddamn funny anymore.

Which as you can see is rather violent a sentiment, or at least a crude one. But it felt like I was on a one-person-war against being crushed by the flow. If I had been in the post-indie state (not like I was ever indie itself, though), then I felt like I was in the post-everything state now, in some place in my head where I stopped caring. Except I hadn’t stopped caring.

Because this year has been, at base, a terrible year for my state of mind in many ways. What inspired it? Two obnoxious, annoying concepts, things I wish we couldn’t have to deal with – envy and jealousy. And I was suffering under the weight of them both, and I probably still am, and I’ve got to get beyond that ASAP. Somehow.

I can’t and don’t want to say what it was that was driving this sentiment in me – not entirely, at least. But it did have to do with something from the previous year, something personal, and from that a lot of things starting to linger and burn in my brain, and they kept getting worse and worse. You’ll laugh to hear it – it’s so self-pitying, I can’t believe it myself. I’ve always prided myself on being beyond that, of smacking myself in the face if I ever got into that state. Wait, relax, you fool, think – do you have your health? A place to stay? Employment? Friends, family? Do you get to read so many things you want to, listen to things you want to, and all that? You do, don’t you, and how many people in the world want to have that sort of luck? So shut up and solve your problem and move on from there.

And all that’s true – but this year, for a lot of it, I didn’t want to believe it, or else I deliberately ignored it. And I made it worse for myself because I exaggerated the positive states my friends were in and compared myself unfavorably to them all down the line. I quietly and almost angrily envied the romantic situation of many I called friends, for instance, thinking their lives were almost uninterrupted bliss without acknowledging where they were suffering or having problems, either personally or with their partners, things they weren’t about to wish on anyone else. I looked at what other friends were doing creatively and thought I was just a time-wasting moron with nothing to offer, at all, anywhere, ever. I took what little negative criticism I really did get to heart so thoroughly I couldn’t see the positives as much (and I hated myself for daring to think I deserved positive criticism anyway).

And all this even when I was making new friends and doing more writing and visiting places I’ve always wanted to go and seeing old friends again and more…because I am naturally an optimistic person. But then again, people say I’m naturally an extrovert, but I feel like the most introverted person ever a good amount of the time, and I can’t begin to imagine sometimes how in the world I deserve the friends I do have and all. I am my own worst critic – maybe – and at heart I believe all my bad press.

So where does music come into this? At my worst, I envied so many of my friends their ears, and their willingness to engage with the wider culture, and their knowledge of things I would like to know but would take forever to learn, and so freakin’ much more. I also envied them their abilities to apparently read more books than I could ever dream of, and see more movies than I could think of, and appreciate more art than I could ever consider, and more and more and more. Where, how, what is that energy? Why the hell do I feel like a complete cultural illiterate now?

And in my envy I wanted to wish everything to shut down. I wanted to wish not only for me to be able to ignore everything and everybody and shut into a hermetic cycle, but to wish everyone could stop sounding so damned interested and interesting when talking about things I barely wanted to consider at all, and that was just about everything being released musically. I didn’t want to think about emo anymore, I wanted to avoid hip-hop’s now overweening triumphialism, pop’s endless cycle of rebirth was gagging in my throat, the list goes on, and I wanted to read no more and hear no more and see no more and say no more about anything. I was so utterly selfish as to want to deny everyone else their own pleasures because for whatever grating reason I couldn’t connect with mine anymore.

Not like that was ever going to come true, of course. Thing was, I was doggedly doing all my reviews for the AMG, writing for print sources, seeing shows, getting new music anyway, all the time! It’s a natural state, but somehow I was reacting against it regardless. My whole complaint was just so stupid, really, my perverse fantasy in my head, so pointless. And yet if it was pointless, why couldn’t I escape this ridiculous, vicious cycle? And how was I to escape?

So maybe the iPod helped. I just don’t know – I feel so strangely deflated this year, about a lot of things. And it doesn’t help at all that I look at the world in general and, while I don’t believe that things are all about to come to an end or anything, I sometimes feel that a miserable prediction I made a little while after 9/11 that I’d be dead one way or another in ten years time (unspoken subtext – that I’d be one of far too many) might still come true.

But that’s out of my hands, for better or for worse. And I have no message to give or real request to make about any of this, just a wish, just that wish to enjoy what music I have and what I like and to work with that at my own pace, not some artificial one caused by setting expectations far too high, and to not feel obligated to care about everything one way or another. Of course, I never was obligated in the first place. So maybe I just need to rediscover that, as I listen to things on my iPod or computer or stereo one song at a time.