So here we are again at the end of another work week. And with an irregular sleep schedule like mine, Friday’s have the nice alliterative pairing with another word, “fatigue.” It shouldn’t surprise you, then, to find a bit of a random thought dumping of a post centered on sleep. The unpredictable injection into that formulaic piece is, of course, death. Or not “of course,” I’ve been thinking about this post for so long, that I’m afraid I might be jumping ahead of myself already.
My lack of musical knowledge is something I’m probably always going to have to live with and that’s something of which I’ve grown to deal, because I did make a decision at some point in my life (not that I can recall the specific instant), to not pursue music of any sort. I don’t feel like I could’ve been a master musician—or a musician at all—but that I could at least understand it. Maybe read it as well. That might have been a different life to live. But whatever, enough about this. I offer this as just another annoying autobiographical pause, because I mean to explain why I analyze songs and albums fundamentally through their lyrics. We all have different ways of thinking about our favorite tunes, I would say, but it’s not something we really come across too much, because we leave it to reviewers to set a certain way of talking about music.
And maybe that’s not true; it was a simple slight that just slipped into my head, so I electronically jotted it down. The thought contained in those words could perhaps be expanded to say that I think it would be great if we got more writing from the common public on music, poetry, books, etc. I want people out there raising questions and postulating answers to the utmost extent—aiming for the impossible goal of asking every question you ever could about everything, which is obviously something that could only be reached if we stopped creating more things that expanded everything—because that’s what the internet is for. So I’ve written in a story about how a writer-character wants to write an article about what “Hotel California” means to him, but doesn’t end up doing it, similar in a way to the recent Warren Ellis tweet: “Things I’ll never have time to write: 10,000 words on the relationship between Lady Gaga’s ‘Bad Romance’ & Bo Diddley’s ‘Who Do You Love.’” I think I would enjoy reading that, but of course I find myself not having enough time to read as much of Ellis’s various running columns, as I should, so I can’t complain.
The point is that I don’t want to have to go to a book club to talk about a book and maybe I don’t want to dig through forums which generally seem to amount to people saying “liked it,” “didn’t it,” “this scene was cool.” But I guess I’m getting both off-track and stuck up, so I’ll pull it in a little—this is not that big of a fish, I’m just no expert out here in the waters; what I’ve learned is that I enjoy casting a lot more than the rest of this gig, but once you’ve got a bite, well you have to do something about it.
By now you are perhaps wondering what this has to do with sleep and death, and, kind reader, I am getting there. Quite quickly at this point, because in this very sentence I will present the case of the 2004 Modest Mouse album Good News for People Who Love Bad News. The various threads of this work present an interesting portrayal of the “sleep/death” line that I’ve been considering lately, not the least as I drearily picked through files at my summer job, my productivity level unfortunately dropping as the week drove on and the drowsiness mounted. (The previous sentence is hopefully not entirely true; I like to think that I keep a fairly regular activity level at work. I followed it out, because it is actually one of the fears that pops up into my head when I have about an hour or so left in the day.)
My abnormally large amount of introductory thoughts (which is quite the feat, considering that I generally do drone on and on before getting to the small, pitiful point) is due in part to the lack of strong evidence for my ideas in this post, but also due to the fact that I’m simply working with a small thought here and one I wanted to dress up to make it larger. About a third of the way into the aforementioned Modest Mouse album, we are treated with a creepy little 13 second rattle of a song—coincidentally the same length as the opening to Radiohead’s “The Bends”—where it is I would assume Isaac Brock who says to us “I’m already digging, I hope you’re dead,” which repeats once.
It is here that we are treated with the classic Poe scenario—the uncertain death which could potentially lead to premature burial (both the name of a Poe story as well as an important plot element to many, including “The Fall of the House of Usher”). This recurs with force and in a much more sinister way in the late track “Satin in a Coffin” which includes the refrain “Are you dead or are you sleepin’?” Apologies, dear readers, who thought I might be making an original point, but I’ve stolen this one directly from the lyrics book. Here, our premature burial situation becomes even more evident—taken in this light, and somewhat out of the context of both the song and the album, I will admit—the response of “God, I sure hope you are dead,” becomes somewhat understandable. We don’t want to be digging graves for living people now, do we? (An aside to this being that I once wanted to write a story about just and send it to a horror magazine to get the first rejection slip, but I never did. I’m so often a failure as a writer.)
This interesting connection between both songs broke into something more for me, when I listened to “Bukowski,” probably my favorite on the album, on a further time through the soundscape. In it, our singer/speaker, if you will, is reflecting on the boredom of listening to someone “talk, talk, talk in circles” (not quite the exact quote; and another thing, he wouldn’t like me much, would he?), and asks “when you get to the point, make sure I’m still awake, okay?”
And I thought, wow, sitting there being bored to death by this speaker, you could fall asleep and be seen as if you were dead (which is ironic, considering the hyperbole). We need to make sure that this person is still awake, because on this album, sleep ends up being death.
See that final conclusion? It didn’t pack much punch, now did it? But then again, it was an odd thing, having already conceived of these connections (but not completely of this blog post), to be watching the Larry King interview with Lady Gaga the other night (which I know I’ve already mentioned this week), and to see the question posed to her, “Why are you so fascinated with death at 24?” She answered that it haunts her dreams (though probably not with that exact cliché), and I thought that there was a connection there. Sleep being something we can explain scientifically, but death being something that many people would say transcends science and even dreams in a way. All these things were somehow worthy of noting to myself and in what better way than in a location that I can access from an internet connection anywhere.
It’s just too bad that I’ve bogged down that simple thought to be remembered in this long post. And consider the oddity that was me finding in Girlfriend in a Coma, a Douglas Coupland book that I read last semester, while leafing through it today, before writing this post, a chapter entitled “If it Sleeps It’s Alive.” If this were a story, I might have broken out in chills at that moment, like Bret Easton Ellis when he rereads his own books (and experiences revelations! How funny)in Lunar Park, but it wasn’t so I simply thought it was a cool coincidence.
And I’m just about quits now, but before I go let me get down an idea that came to me while writing this: What if something like Wikipedia ended up linking you, in the future, to various pages of people reflecting how they were affected and how they saw a certain piece of art or an event, and this continued in a sort of file system, so that you could easily search inside a work of art, interpreting not only specific lines in Ulysses or The Catcher in the Rye, but as a public, everything of which we are fans.