Tuesday, May 8, 2018

A Priori Like a Rolling Stone


Feelings of absurdity and emptiness are prevalent in rock music, from The Beatles to Counting Crows. With my iTunes on shuffle I was submerged this afternoon in a barrage of existentialism (and you’re telling me there's no God?). First, '''Round Here," a pensive, dreamlike piece in which Counting Crow's Adam Duritz begins by poetically expressing his feelings of invisibility with the quietly sung "Step out the front door like a ghost/ into the fog where no one notices/ the contrast of white on white." He mentions walking in the rain, being lost in thought and asks the question with double meaning, "Where? I don't know."   He can't seem to figure anything out as he mentions the "crumbling difference between wrong and right" and then introduces Maria, a character as confused and dissatisfied as he. Maria is perplexed about sex and religion and feels "she's more than just a little misunderstood." Both he and Maria feel lost and confused in a muddled absurd reality. Their confusion is never resolved, and the song ends with Duritz's desperate cries that he "can't see nothin'" and that he's "under the gun 'round here." The song is the cry of young people trying to figure out their lives and find meaning in an absurd reality.

I need a phone call.  I need a raincoat.

A less discouraging and seemingly more peaceful expression of life's absurdity came decades before with The Beatles' "Strawberry Fields Forever," second on my computer's little existential jaunt. Lennon shows no bitterness or anger at the fact that "nothing is real," though he seems critical of people who don't acknowledge the absurdity of reality: "Living is easy with eyes closed/ Misunderstanding all you see." He seems to be content when he sings, "But you know I know when it's a dream,” referring to Strawberry Fields, presumably a metaphor for life. He says that in this bizarre, meaningless life, "It's getting hard to be someone,/ But it all works out./ It doesn't matter much to me."  Essentially, we are alone and existence is absurd.

Track 3 was a fusion of the two themes, this one again from The Beatles. "Eleanor Rigby," is but a haunting earworm about lonely people living meaningless lives. McCartney's voice, though sweet, is filled with anguish and despair, accompanied by a string orchestra of frustrated violins and melancholy cello. The song first describes Eleanor Rigby, a woman who "lives in a dream" and keeps up her looks as she keeps up her life. The next description is of Father MacKenzie, who writes sermons no one will listen to and keeps his socks darned (though no one will see them). McCartney asks "What does he care?" and ponders where "all the lonely people" belong. Not only do these people fail to draw meaning from outside, they seemingly have no meaning within themselves.

I wondered, "What can possibly be next, iTunes? 'Fool on the Hill'"? That man no one wants to know, living alone in a "world spinning 'round," totally disconnected from society? No one listens to him or likes him, and he doesn't seem to care... Or maybe Dylan and that rolling stone? Let's see, this woman used to be a rich socialite but has fallen from her aristocratic status; she is living alone on the streets and is presumably a prostitute. Dylan asks her how it feels to be "without a home/ Like a complete unknown/ Like a rolling stone." He calls her "Miss Lonely" and describes her wasted education at an expensive school. He seems to have little pity for her current situation because her past was empty and worthless. She has now been turned out into the cold, unfeeling streets, and doesn't have inside her what it takes to survive alone.

Caroline, No

But it got worse. 

The next random choice from iTunes was The Beach Boys' "I Just Wasn't Made For These Times," from Pet Sounds. Brian Wilson sings in a soft, sad voice, "I keep looking for a place to fit/ Where I can speak my mind." The chorus consists of background vocals crying, "Can't find nothin' I can put my heart and soul into" in between the lead vocal's confession, "Sometimes I feel very sad... " And when he sings, "I guess I just wasn't made for these times," Brian is conveying both existential isolation and a lack of meaning in his life. The universe is void of a priori meaning, therefore, we can create and assign whatever meaning we want. And because we are free to create meaning, we are also responsible for the meaning we create, but that, dear friends, is often too hard and we turn to others or God or we put on some music, just not on shuffle.