why-to: a short and helpful guide to motivate one’s pursuit of activities
a.) previously not pursued
b.) pursued so regularly that no one knows or remembers why they’re doing them in the first place.
1.0 PET OWNERSHIP AND OTHER ACTIVITIES
1.3.1 Why-to listen to music:
I’m hard pressed to think of a person who doesn’t like music. It’s been around since the beginning and it comes in all forms in all cultures, so there’s got to be a reason for it. And, as an often complex and visceral phenomenon, it may be difficult to get at the underpinnings of why we do it and have been doing it for so long.
Maybe we should dissect the process of the first time you listen to a song:
The very first thing you might do when listening to a song you’ve never heard before is decide whether you like it or not. This seems to be a backwards thing to do, but it’s basically what everyone does. Rather than digest the material, think about it for a bit, you impulsively decide whether it’s even worth listening to in the first place. After a song passes the threshold of tolerability, you may or may not “get into it,” which is essentially a way of saying “feel the rhythm and melody” of a song. Then, you might listen to the lyrics and decide whether they resonate with you, have a complex meaning, or what-have-you. If they do, you might analyze said meaning. If not, or if there are no lyrics, you might move on to the structure of the music itself: the layers of instrumentation and the various patterns of sound. Does the song have a mood, and what is it, even if it’s a mood of neutrality?
Finally, you might consider the song’s context, which really isn’t a “finally” at all because the layers of context disperse endlessly into the ether of life. Impossible it may be to list all of the possible contexts for a song, but some examples include:
-the song’s relation to the singer, orchestra, or band’s history (how their style’s changed over time, how band members’ lives have changed);
-the musical genre’s history (the change of West African music to blues to jazz to rock ’n’ roll, with all sorts of variations and vibrations throughout all of those indiscrete genre changes);
-the political or social implications of a song’s existence in the moment that you’re listening to it or at the time of its initial creation (the forced migration of a large group of people to work tirelessly in the harshest of physical and emotional circumstances with only their indigenous cultural practices to carry them through the ordeal and, as that culture transformed with a gradual assimilation into the dominant society, how the music was transformed, giving rise to new types of music and new methods of rebellion against the dominant society, as evidenced in rock ‘n’ roll and hip hop;
1.3.1., A Why-to consider the political or social implications of a song’s existence in the moment that you are listening to it or at the time of its initial creation:
Listening to music can be a method of relaxation for a good deal of listeners, but, at times, relaxation can be difficult to achieve upon consideration of the political or social implications of a song.
There’s been a lot of suffering in life, and there continues to be a lot. So, when thinking about any type of thing, your mind might get drawn–almost deliberately pulled–to some of the more negative causes that lead to the thing’s manifestation. Though such negative thinking might seem counterproductive, it can actually be seen as an ethical necessity in the pursuit of activities. For instance, you could listen to blues for the sound of the singer’s wailing and dwell on the existential implications of the music (that we all suffer and feel lonely), but you might overlook the history of profound physical and psychological suffering that the blues singer might be referring to in regard to a very specific portion of the human population: slaves and the descendants of slaves.
It’s good, then, to know that music is often created for specific political or social purposes. Songs of protest often utilize the mnemonic properties of a catchy song to communicate a message that will ingrain itself more deeply into a listener’s head. Johnny Cash’s song “Man in Black,” for instance, protests the injustices suffered by the downtrodden in the United States, and the message could easily be extrapolated to refer to the downtrodden everywhere. Cash dresses in black when he performs as a reminder that the poor, the homeless, the imprisoned, the aged, and members of military service are often facing intolerable hardships, while other, luckier members of society, enjoy their “streak of lightnin’ cars and fancy clothes.”
An awareness of the history of any given song shouldn’t necessarily drive you away from it or from the enjoyment of it, but it might give you a broader understanding of the music you listen to.
-the history of the Universe (a Big Bang happening or not happening, with the cosmos spilling out of nothingness and eventually creating human life on a small blue and green planet in the Milky Way, with that human life creating music, for some reason);
-your own personal history (the strong associations conjured up every time the album Marquee Moon by Television is played. In my case, it always reminds me of cruising the dirty streets of Los Angeles at night with the windows rolled down. And I first heard it with my best friend, Ben, on a road trip from Chicago to Los Angeles, so there’s that memory associated with it, as well. I remember him putting it on the car stereo for the first time, and I was blown away.
1.3.1, B Why-to like Marquee Moon:
The album begins boldly with “See No Evil,” which is an evocative title in itself, as it alludes to either an inability to see evil on the part of the lyricist or a lack of evil in the world. Or maybe it’s an instruction to the listener to stop seeing evil altogether. All of these ideas could potentially be highly controversial because many major belief systems and religions are founded on a firm distinction between good and evil, with good dictating how you should live your life and evil being what you should avoid. With that distinction erased, the very basis on which a society is structured is called into doubt, and so the order brought about by society’s rules may fall apart into chaos.
1.3.1, B, i. Why-to structure a society on the basis of a distinction between good and evil:
Societies are complicated things. By their very definition, societies are composed of more than a couple of human beings, and each human being is made up of more than a few biological systems, in addition to a wide variety of emotions and thoughts formed by complex personal histories embedded in complex social histories, which are in turn embedded in complex cosmological histories. Rules, implicit or explicit, would then be a helpful way, despite all of the complexities, to make human life somewhat predictable.
Because human beings, as well as many other organisms, experience pain, which can be seen as a negative sensation, and pleasure, which can be generally agreed to be positive in nature, concepts like “good” and “bad” could be seen as an almost organic development in human history. Let’s imagine the dawn of human language. In order for early human beings to communicate vital information to one another, such as whether or not something edible was life-sustaining or life-threatening, noises could be conjured up to represent those concepts. A good piece of fruit would be one that promoted survival and a bad piece of fruit would be one that thwarted it.
From that, with all of the bloody wars, conquests, revolutions, and other forms of cultural and intellectual intermingling, human beings developed elaborate philosophies about the fundamental nature of goodness and badness. Though, ultimately, words like “good” and “evil” could help humans communicate very important ideas related to survival, whole societies could function in a somewhat organized manner if they had some general agreement as to what could be defined as good and evil.
That isn’t to say that the more brutal and cold-hearted members of society didn’t take advantage of this system of symbols called language in order to receive more pleasure than pain. In fact, one major reason to structure a society around concepts like good and evil would be for members of society to control the whole thing, manipulating the society’s structure for their benefit by using definitions of good and evil to direct goodness their way.
On a sort of individual level, distinguishing between good and bad is what allows you to make your decisions. If you know that “robbing a bank” is bad, no matter what you based that reasoning on, you can simply pursue activities that don’t include robbing a bank.
1.3.1., B, i., b. Why-to rob a bank:
If you don’t have any money and want to get some quick, robbing a bank might seem like a great solution.
I used to want to rob a bank when I was growing up. I didn’t ever actually plan on doing it, but the idea of planning an elaborate trick, sneaking past guards, and crossing the wires of security cameras had an irresistible appeal. I can’t quite put my finger on what that appeal is linked to fundamentally. I’d also pretend to be a spy with my friends, creeping into backyards throughout the neighborhood and trying to get a glimpse inside of the houses. Surely there was a voyeuristic aspect to it, but there was something about not being seen that I really enjoyed. This is the same feeling of “pulling one over” that made me want to be a magician. Of course, I never robbed a bank and I have too much of a moral code to join the CIA, but I think that the desire to be mischievous will always be in my personality.
Other reasons to rob a bank include: wanting to get a taste of adventure because you’ve seen one too many movies, impressing a love or sex interest, or having a simple death wish.
Without conceptions of good and evil, however, the possibilities in life might become so numerous as to inhibit any ability to act.
More important than the title of “See No Evil” is the powerful way that the lead guitar riff ropes you in. It’s throbbing, almost. When the second guitar comes in, you can tell that this isn’t simple rock ’n’ roll, but beds of intricate instrumental arrangements that weave in and out of one another. The songs continue with a consistency of style that gives the album a definite feel, a weight. Tom Verlaine’s eerie voice and mysterious lyrics create an emotion reminiscent of late nights, times when you’re alone even with other people and the world becomes an uncanny place. Along with fast and powerful songs, you can hear slower, more delicate ballads such as “Guiding Light,” my personal favorite. The title track is an obvious masterpiece due to its troubling tone, long solos, and overall length.
Historically, the album is also very interesting. It came at a time when bands were moving away from classical rock ’n’ roll songs about love towards complicated riffs and beats and lyrics that had more existential overtones or social commentary. Vocals became less about having a pleasing sound in favor of something that reflected the social malaise at the time. The band had a couple of other albums, I think, but they were easily overshadowed by Marquee Moon. And, because Television leaned toward elaborate instrumentals and obscure lyrics as opposed to short, catchy songs (like “I Wanna be Sedated” by the Ramones), they never became all that popular.
Personally, I feel a kinship with Tom Verlaine, and the lyrics really resonate with me.
Do we part like the seas? The roaring shell…
The drifting of the leaves…
It’s time to sit up
Up on the throne.
I don’t necessarily know what the words mean. But there’s something about a song like “Guiding Light,” where you don’t know what life’s all about and it all seems so strange, but you know that it’s basically good. The song makes you feel at ease even in the midst of an eternal loneliness.
-or even the feeling that the music creates in you because, unarguably, the best thing about listening to music is how it courses through you, converting your thoughts into musical notes of red, blue, and violet and strumming your neurons, your nerves, gradually replacing them with something a little more suited to the environment and encasing you in protective gear. You can breathe a little easier in the thinning air, and the staircase formed, though not entirely stable, is wholly reliable.
1.3.1, C Why-to travel to the Moon:
Up on the moon, there’s this air–or this decrease in gravity. You can really fly up there, but you’ll never forget the ground, the thing that you continually bounce back down on and tells you that you’re going to want to go back up again. And, man, it’s wild up there. The stars, well, they’re closer to the Moon than they are to the Earth. Down on the Earth, they’re nothin’ but bright pinholes. On the Moon, you can make out the individual wisps of neon dust that fly off of the surfaces of stars. There are swirls and, as you jump higher and as the weight of gravity is pulled off of you more and more, you can gain enough height to escape the Moon’s atmosphere and go off into space.
1.3.1., D Why-to travel to outer space:
That feeling you experienced on the Moon and that wonderful view you had of the Earth is multiplied exponentially out in space. The lack of any gravity makes you feel like you’ve never lived before, like everything up until this point has been phony.
People write about outer space a lot, but their descriptions are completely underwhelming in comparison to the actuality of being out there. Out in the depths of space, you encounter permutations of life that will delight your senses. Imagine a creature with semi-translucent skin that radiates a soft orange and pink light from its chest and emits a song that’s always right for the occasion, directly from its consciousness into your own. When you touch the creature, it feels like the mold on a fallen tree When you smell the creature, it smells like the tulip fields of Holland. When you finally hear the creature talk, it sounds like a series of farts ranging in quality: airy farts, loud farts, and those little farts that sound like the barking of a dog. Then, when you fart, the creature confuses your anus for your mouth and your mouth for your anus and assumes that everything you say is shit, but that everything you fart is perfectly reasonable.
Imagine also the diverse landscapes that exist in outer space: planets with freezing tundras of purple frost, a planet coated in a mountain range made of shimmering crystals, another planet roiling with explosive gases, and a laser planet.
Finally, out in space, you find life so intelligent that it answers all of your deepest questions, telling you exactly where life sprang from, where we’re all headed, and exactly how you should live your life.
All in all, music is really worth getting into, but pursuing any activity that might be considered frivolous or counterproductive can distract you from activities that might better contribute to the progress of your society or species.
1.4.0 Activities (The Non-Pursuit of)
1.4.2 Why-to not listen to music:
Well, I guess there aren’t a lot of good reasons not to listen to music, but it’s worth considering.
1.4.2, A Why-to not travel to the Moon:
The work involved in preparing to fly to the moon sounds like an awful lot. There are months of training, even if you don’t plan on touching any of the space shuttle’s fancy buttons or doing any research while up in space. Then, once you’re there, there’s probably not a whole lot to do except to enjoy the view.
As a cultural trend, music can lead to meaningless rivalries between people. To some, especially teens, music plays a large part in forming an identity. If you listen to punk music, you might not want to associate yourself with those who listen to pop music. This might also cause you to be biased against certain genres or forms of music, preventing you from experiencing them. Of course, these genres are merely superficial categories, as different musical styles easily blend into one another, so to cut yourself off from a particular “genre” can be a huge mistake.
1.4.2, B Why-to not travel to outer space:
It would take too long.
There are definitely times when music isn’t appropriate. It can be distracting to some individuals while studying. People generally frown upon turning music on during serious moments, such as during a break-up or some other form of intimacy.
Another time when music might be avoided is in moments when it’s better to enjoy the silence, such as in a very still forest or when you’re alone at night.
1.4.2, C Why-to not to listen to Marquee Moon:
Despite my feelings about Marquee Moon, I never get the same feeling listening to it as I did when I first heard it. I don’t mean to recycle the old adage that nothing is as good as the first time, but what I mean is that for me, personally, music just doesn’t have the same effect now as it did in my younger and more vulnerable years. Now, when I listen to Marquee Moon, I do recognize intellectually that the album is uniquely wonderful, the lyrics hauntingly beautiful, and the guitar intricate and catchy, but I don’t know if I feel it. And I don’t know why that is.
All art, though (music included), is inherently good, and I will never back down from that point. When art is used for evil purposes, it isn’t the art’s fault, but the fault of everything else. I often feel that way about a lot of human cultural practices. Maybe that’s because a lot of cultural practices easily fall under the category of art or that the definition of art can be stretched as to be all-encompassing, so that boxing and dancing seem equally as wonderful as quantum mechanics and coaching gym.
This might mean, then, that there may actually be some activities that have a sort of intrinsically good quality to them, allowing them to act as a sort of guiding light in the fog of desperate city.