Saturday, April 19, 2014

Summer Anthems and the Outskirts of Humanity... Many Things To Many People

It's not always a given, but typically each year around the time the world emerges from the winter thaw and slowly coaxes Her children back to life, I tend to get obsessed with a single song that essentially becomes my Summer Anthem. This tradition is not enshrined in stone tablets for the Masses or anything so rigidly formal, though it does in some ways inform the themes and narrative structure of that particular season of my life. I'm not sure why the annual Great Thaw inspires me to be more receptive to musical stimuli. Perhaps it is symbolic of the endless cycles of Life and Death that permeate the natural world and my constant destruction and rebirth like some kind of Dark Phoenix, but as I get older I am becoming increasingly bound by a grim inverse relationship where as age increases enjoyment of winter decreases.

The problem is that this relationship is increasing exponentially, and though the winter in my particular geographic region was particularly long, I find that my yearly cycle of depression and withdrawal in the winter months is worsening, and my psychological barriers that protect my mind from the ravages of ice, snow, wind, and various other forms of arctic sorcery seem to be weakening at an alarming rate. This year, I was getting close to Giving Up, whatever that meant. But I knew that this year I was dangerously close to that vague boundary, and I was overcome with the vague sensation of slowly being dragged to the depths of some watery abyss like my innards after consuming any quantity of Chinese food.

Luckily, this turned out not to be the year in which I succumb to the Darkness as last Friday my rebirth was ushered in with a tune that blew open the gates to Summer with an atomic blast and immediately put me on a higher path back towards the Land of the Living, if only to the outskirts. I'd heard snippets of the song before, but on that fateful morning the ignition of the my car coincided perfectly with the beginning of the opening notes of my latest anthem. The song: "Black Me Out." The artist: Against Me! (And no, I didn't add the exclamation mark for emphasis; I've verified from several independent sources that it is indeed part of the band name.)

On a visceral level, the song had me hooked immediately. The tune instantly grabbed me by the throat and refused to let go and was laced with a quality that I have tried to define many times but that I can only describe as a sense of unfulfilled urgency. But more than that, the lyrics spoke to me in a way that song lyrics rarely do, which is why when it happens it is so memorable. In a recent interview, Against Me!'s lead vocalist and guitarist Laura Jane Grace offered the following analysis of her song:

"It's an angry song, and it's about feeling like you have certain relationships in your life where you have to fake the person that you are and be inauthentic and compromise yourself to people you work with or people you see out at a bar who corner you — who make you the kind of person that you aren't, really — and feeling like you're so angry that you just want to be like blacked out from someone's existence, like, 'Fucking forget about me, don't think about me anymore, I do not exist to you anymore.' That kind of feeling."

Now, of course, seeing as Grace recently came out as transgendered and "Black Me Out" is a track on an album titled Transgender Dysphoria Blues, it probably has a lot of different connotations for her than it does for me.  Despite the fact that I am a white, heterosexual male - probably the single least persecuted demographic in history - I think the lyrics speak to a more universal resistance to authority and the tendency towards conformity as the default, as a path of least resistance.  I think that having to compromise in the worst sense of the word and crossing lines that we promised ourselves that we would never cross simply to adhere to social or cultural norms or expectations that we don't necessarily agree with in order not to "rock the boat" is something that all of us can relate to at some time or another    

For me, "Black Me Out" is ultimately about freedom in  the sense of being willing to challenge expectations or authority when contextually appropriate and not becoming beholden to someone else's sense of what is right without questioning.  Being able to follow the courage of our convictions is something that we all need reminding of every once in a while.  Sometimes we need to be shaken out of our complacency and give a big "fuck you" to those who need it the most when they need it and start looking forward instead of back.  Long live Summer.


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