Youth is wasted on the young.
George Bernard Shaw
Legend has it that when Elvis Costello received the first R.E.M. cassette he walked around flipping it over and over in his Walkman (remember those?) listening to it continuously for days. Years later when asked what he thought of R.E.M.'s massive success he wryly replied, "I liked them better when you couldn't understand the words." But then again, this is the man who once said, "Writing about music is as intelligent as dancing about architecture."
I remember the first time something similar happened to me. I was driving over Laurel Canyon towards Sunset Boulevard on a spring day in 1998. On the radio I heard:
And you can't fight the tears that ain't coming
Or the moment of truth in your lies
When everything feels like the movies
Yeah, you bleed just to know you're alive
And I don't want the world to see me
'Cause I don't think that they'd understand
When everything's made to be broken
I just want you to know who I am
And I almost collapsed into my steering wheel, barely managing to pull off to the side of the road because I couldn't hold back the tears, making it unsafe to drive.
In one verse and one chorus, someone had encapsulated a society of people who feel numb or who numb themselves, feel inauthentic and disingenuous yet can't crawl out from under the fabulous personas they created to survive their childhoods, feel marginalized and never good-enough behind the super-cool facades that pop culture icons taunted them into incarnating.
Like Eliot's prescient "To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet."
Or Yeats' prophetic "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity."
Have we not evolved as a species in the last century, or does humanity itself remain the most unseemly blight on humanity? And could the root of many of our afflictions be because we are not allowed to express a healthy range of emotions without being deemed mad?
Why would we want to pathologize passion or its inversion, ADHD?
Possibly because passions run amok would result in anarchy; what the state was designed to do is to control, to maintain social order, according to Foucault. Music merely exists to cathartically allow people to blow off a little steam, lest they boil over.
I drove directly to the Virgin Megastore and bought the "City of Angels" soundtrack. As spring melted into summer, for the next few weeks - whether I was home, in the car, or at the gym - the only song I listened to was "Iris" by the Goo Goo Dolls. I needed to dissect the song. I needed to enter the song. I needed to bath in it. I needed to digest it. I needed to unpack every phrase, every nuance. I felt compelled to have every riff, drum beat, chord, every sound, vibration, tone and ellipsis wedged into the crevices of my brain.
Last year I was mesmerized by the inversion of gravity expressed in "Mulholland Drive" by Gaslight Anthem - "the deep, dark parking lot pressed up against my car" and the subsequent youthful passion groping inside of that automobile. I purchased their new CD "Get Hurt" and when "Stray Paper" came on it happened to me again. I was walking around my living room when the following verse was bellowed by the razor crisp voice of Brian Fallon:
And underneath the tyranny
of august and her sons,
Who sent fire from their fingertips
in the holy vow of a teenage kiss.
Now we're much too old for this,
And I don't feel those kinds of things.
So don't you cry for me,
I used to feel everything.
And my legs gave out and I broke into tears. When I got up, I ran to my stereo and put the track on repeat, then went to the liner notes to see whether the lyrics read "august and her sons" or august and her suns," since they were conjuring the intense heat of youthful romance, the curiosity and passion that are often extinguished or at least repressed by the pressures of becoming "productive" members of society.
"I used to feel everything," he wails. But there would be no time to "work" if you were too busy feeling everything - and people would think you suffered from bipolar disorder - so it is probably best to numb yourself out. Maybe with a little television while posting sarcastic Tweets and Facebook ditties while swiping potential Tinder hook-ups while scarfing down the latest flavor of free-range, gluten-free, whole-rolled whatever.
And you wonder why you wake up alone.
Being in the world but not of it, it is intellectuals' dirty little secret that our cultural paradigm conflates sex (most often illicit in some manner) and love.
"Maybe all great passion is based on utter dysfunctionality?" I often ask my patients to contemplate when they are reeling from unconsciously uncoupling from someone with whom they had "great chemistry."
Ponder whether lust only exists in relationships that are hierarchical in some manner? In the old paradigm, it often appeared that men desired playmates more than partners; women desired the finest protectors and providers they could find. But gender roles have become rather fluid and amorphous and there is no longer a structure or frame for courtship and mating. Anything is possible. But what if lovers had similar ages, looks, incomes, power, acclaim, life experiences, personal satisfaction, vulnerability, strength, spiritual beliefs and individual completeness - then what would they lust after? We lust after what we don't have... things such as youth or knowledge or safety or approval or creativity or or or... anything we don't have is exotic, erotic.
Sex and love have little to do with each other unless all parties consciously co-create a safe, loving, trustworthy, authentic relationship that allows and even inspires them to explore and grow over time. Otherwise, boredom becomes the mortal enemy of many couples who have been married more than a few years.
So how is it that Mister Fallon at the ripe age of 34 already feels too old for the passion and fire of Hollywood's gilded adolescent lip-smacks? Why doesn't he want us to cry for him? I certainly did. Is it because he used to feel everything but has transcended that immature stage and is no longer a slave to emotions? Is jadedness now considered to be admirable in the culture of Tinder and pornography?
And if Mister Fallon has transcended his peers then what is next for him? Polyamory? Random hook-ups? Celibacy? Or is he resigned to more blood on stray paper for the sake of his art?
"Stray Paper" is a poignant, hauntingly delicious, gorgeously textured, exquisitely layered, wildly sophisticated, earth shuddering, albeit brief SYMPHONY that captures the "coming of age" revelations of romantic idealists going as far back as Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde.
Just walk down to the corner this evening and you will find many scraps of bloodied stray paper alongside the cigarette butts outside the local Co-Dependents Anonymous or Love Addicts Anonymous meetings.
It does not appear that the youth of America have surpassed the drunken fumbling in backseats of the previous generation or of their fathers' fathers. And what would healthy intimacy resemble in a world of texting, sexting, swiping, Tweeting, Instagramming, and Facebooking?
Or maybe writing about the lost passions of youth is like writing about music, as intelligent as dancing about architecture?