This morning after I got up and got the dogs ready (“got the dogs ready” = how I think about feeding them and taking them out), I washed the dishes and made coffee, which is my usual routine. And then I made an inspirational message on a piece of paper, which is not a part of my routine. The paper, pictured above, has five numbers on it that are supposed to remind me about different things, and the goal is to “be inspired”.
It’s a bright, hopeful morning, and the feeling felt right.
Related to all this, I think, is that at the end of last week, I totally got Grimes, and it made listening to her music really pleasant. That all started when I watched the video for “Oblivion”, which I just really despised at the time. It was on a Thursday I think. The oft-cited “someone on Twitter”, I think, said the video was like “hipsters discover sports are cool” or something, and that seems apt to me. Sort of.
The thing about the video that drives me batty is that all the things Grimes does — listen to her discman, wear stupid clothes, have dyed hair, dance around, cause a ruckus — are all things me and my friends did in very similar circumstances when we were young. And it wasn’t cool or anything at all, and Grimes seems like she’s really cool. So the whole enterprise smells to high heaven with the stench of cultural tourism, which I’m usually OK with as long as god damnit it’s not my culture because we don’t usually issue visas what with who would want to pretend to be poor and bored and socially inept? (This is where I mention my utter contempt for every piece ever on The Gathering of the Juggalos.)
So this Grimes thing that I tried to get into three weeks ago came to a head at the end of last week, but then I got it!
It sort of occurred to me that Grimes is not being a cultural tourist, and also that Grimes is not “being” anything at all. It’s really a facile thing, I think, to think someone is “being” any way at all unless you’re willing to spend a lot of time thinking about how they’re being. So I’m not denying the existence or explanatory capabilities of ontology, but I’m saying its results get question begged in a lot of cultural hit pieces (and, to be fair, encomia), and that’s a pretty lazy way to be! It sort of occurred to me that I should just listen to Grimes and not be a jerk about it, and try to draw my own conclusions.
I really like the song “Oblivion”, so that’s the only thing I’m going to talk about in detail, though I think I like most of the album. It’s not really an essential part of myself or of the album itself that I like it or relate to it, though, so it’s not that important to get into anyway. But my point is that I’m pretty sure that in another three months I’ll still be listening to Visions, and I’m OK with that.
The programmed bassline part sounds like it starts en medias res, does it not? That you stumble into the song, like the way you can be walking on the sidewalk and there’s an obstruction of people and you push through because you have to get to work or meet some people for dinner, and then all of a sudden you’re standing in the middle of a knife fight? That’s how the beginning of the song sounds to me, but instead of “knife fight” it’s “Thunderdome”. The song sounds very post-apocalytic to me is what I’m saying, and it’s just that first split second (followed by another ten seconds of letting you just hear it how it sounds, hear the sounds, which really are like a I-III-IV-V [I think?] walking bassline that sounds like a future-bot’s version of playing it, though). And there’s the fact that the song is called “Oblivion”.
It’s kind of charming how Grimes uses the phrase “point of view”. I don’t really get if this is secretly a Silver Jews “How To Rent A Room” type of song where the protagonist is always already secretly dead, or if it’s a cautionary tale or what. I think either way, it’s a really impressively personal brand of feeling that’s being expressed in this overwhelmingly ambiguous (though veering toward pleasure more than pain) that’s been making me listening to it over and over. I’d call it “art pop”, but that’s unnecessary. “Oblivion” is just a really kicky song that also glances off of mortality in a way that (while failing to illuminate it) sort of does illuminate at least its feeling effect on someone. That goes a long way toward understanding it, or at least Grimes, which is what art is all about anyway.
Another pertinent thing about the song, for me, is that the word “oblivion” doesn’t mean what “oblivion” means for most people, I suspect, but rather the video game developed by Bethesda Game Studios, which is called in full “The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion”. I believe this was toward the beginning (or middle or end) of a depressive stage of mine where I smoked a lot of pot and played Oblivion all day. I remember playing for something like 30 hours before I figured out that I was playing all wrong, which to the lay person means I was playing it exactly how you would have thought you were supposed to play it — Eg, you level up your “sword swinging ability” by swinging your sword, and you keep doing that if your guy is primarily a sword swinging sort of guy. But the thing with Oblivion is that you’re supposed to (if you want to play “optimally”) level up all the things you will never do in order to blow your big leveling up wad on the things you do want to do. It’s a deeply counterintuitive system, and it’s my understanding that this wildly popular Skyrim game has corrected this obvious defect.
But picture me — getting very high, laptop open to the Oblivion wikia, notepad covered in scribbles meant to mark my progress with attributes like running, jumping, sword swinging, opening things, etc. Did I level up jumping three times or four times? is something I asked myself on the reg. And since I was impossibly stoned, often falling asleep in the middle of playing because I was playing at night after work, I could never keep track of it and never play an optimal game of Oblivion, and at some point I just stopped playing the game and stopped smoking pot because why the hell am I doing this?
So the Grimes song “Oblivion” really takes me back to that period. The other thing about the song is that it fairly obviously counterpoints its dark, apocalyptic sounds with very airy, wispy vocals. And a pretty good drum beat. (I really think Kanye West should take the next few years off from rapping and just program everyone’s drums. It would be a brilliant decision, because it would show his true selflessness while vastly improving music in general. Such an act would be the musical equivalent of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, only if the Gateses gave like 90% of their money to charity instead of 10%.) “Oblivion” has this heaviness-lightness vibe/tension to it, which is cool. And the bridge has this deeply uncool synthesizer sounding sound. Really, generally, it’s kind of a mess of a song. But I cannot stop listening to it. And I have exactly figured out why. This is why.
I think Grimes reminds me a lot of myself, and my friends, and really everyone else in the world. She seems to be very normal in that she’s confused and young and trying to figure out her shit. And so, this idea I had of her “being” really cool and post-internet and tumblr postergirlish was super wrong, I think, though I understand she’s given interviews and said stuff (but come on, we all say stuff and how often is the stuff you’re saying premeditated and on-purpose legacy building? 0% of the time or 0% of the time? That’s what I thought.) I think she’s just like a normal person, and when you think that it becomes really cool and pleasant to just listen to the music and enjoy how it sounds because it sounds really nice. I enjoy hearing Grimes’s layered, extremely girly vocals. I enjoy her programming and synth patches. I think the pacing and variability of the album is a testament to her musical acumen or intuition. She makes music that’s sort of think-y and also very fun to listen to. That it has a lot of genre allusiveness is not, I think, a conscious decision or very indicative of a larger trend.
I think allusiveness is our way of telling other people that we and they all actually exist.
The way I stamped my idea of Grimes’s being onto Grimes is definitely a way to remind myself that I exist, but it sort of negates the positive existence of Grimes. I pull that sort of shit all the time, and I always tell myself not to, and I still end up doing it. (The small, petty, likely wrong part of me wants to say that you pull that shit even more than I do, but I’ll try to resist.) If I were a talented musician when I was young, I’d probably (?) do the sort of thing Grimes is doing, but instead I did the things I did, which Grimes sort of portrayed in the video for “Oblivion”. I often want to think that everyone else is a mirror, but then I recoil from the view.
The idea of imposing order onto life is important. I’m sure this is the sort of lesson I learned a long time ago reading Foucault’s The Order Of Things, but the way you structure and lay out reality is A) contingent, and B) feels inexorably solid. That is, duh, a clear paradox. Its laying out before you is meant to, maybe, erupt the discourse surrounding whatever — biology, Wittgenstein, sex — but all it’s managed to do is breach my idea of myself. Someone like Grimes seems like she exists as a positive, creative force. “Oblivion” is a thing, it’s cool, I like hearing it. It refers to other things, but existence itself is a reference to another thing. Playing video games (Oblivion, for instance) and writing inspirational numbers on a piece of paper are other ways to create existence, but I’m afraid their mode of existence is neutral (at best). They are ways of re-forming existence. Taking whatever portion of the bucket of sand you have and molding it into something else. (Instead of going out and getting more sand, or becoming so hot that you turn the sand into glass, which you then blow into an impossibly beautiful acoustical sculpture that they end up displaying at the Tacoma Glass Museum.)
This morning, when I wrote down those numbers and then thought about Grimes and then thought about Oblivion, I did not expect to feel kind of bummed out forty minutes later. (I’ve been writing this for about forty minutes.) But I am, because there’s a sense in which “leveling up” has become, for me, such a dirty word. It’s so cynical. Leveling up is like, it’s this concept that’s been invented by psychological geniuses who just want you to click the cow one more time. Or, that’s not it really. But it’s an objective representation of a subjective change, a change which, being fully subjective, is perhaps imperceptible and definitely non-objective (ontologically speaking). Or rather, it affects our being, but not descriptively (as in having a different color shirt or bigger muscles). It affects you as an active agent. Prescriptively, as it were, in that it affects your action. (Which, to be fair, then get described.)
I guess all this isn’t going to stop me from trying to live up to certain ideals. But it’s definitely something that bears thinking about: I have a limited self, it seems, to be channeled and shaped in different directions; I have an unlimited self that can be creative and expressive in manifold and surprising ways. The conditions effecting the obviously true polarity of the self are social, cultural, and political — sure. But they’re also a third part of the self, I think, that should probably be constantly overcome, starved, fed, and conditioned. Just, how? That’s obviously the big question.