You may or may not have heard of a band called Belle and Sebastian. They wrote an album, during which they must have been listening to a lot of Velvet Underground. I like that one. There’s another later album that they recorded while they must have been listening to the Beach Boys. That one is pretty good, too.
I am not a music reviewer.
I am also by no means an expert, but I do know what I like to listen to while I sit in my backyard and stare at the sky. It varies, really. Today I started on Carter Burwell’s theme from Raising Arizona, then I tried out “10,000 people sing Ode to Joy” but I wasn’t into it, which is weird because I’m almost always into Ode to Joy. After a certain number of singers, the quality of a choir declines towards the cacophony of crowd noise and that takes something out of it, for me at least.
From there I decided to completely reboot and I jumped around from Lorde to Miley Cyrus to Avril Lavigne. I didn’t finish any of those. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not shitting on them in particular. I will sing “Party in the U.S.A.” in the shower and to my kids at bedtime, but today it wasn’t Staring into the Sky Music.
I have come to love my backyard. My shitty, weed-filled backyard. My mother covered about 1/3 of it with plastic and rubber mulch, I covered the other 1/3 with paving stones, and the other 1/3 is nasty, scrubby bare ground spotted with unwanted growth. I need to get some Roundup, again. Bless you, Monsanto. Bless the food, bless the cancer, bless the dead patch in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, but most of all bless my fucking backyard, may I never weed-eat it again.
I’m going to get around to salting the earth and bricking the rest over, I swear, just like I swear I’m going to fix the garage ceiling and the hot water in the downstairs bathroom.
It is good that I have found this refuge. I used to spend hours attempting to work out how to achieve some level of comfort and, sometimes, frisson, because it’s not just relaxation I need. It’s a stirring. Years ago, before I was a father, I spent hours drinking and blasting whatever music I could in an attempt to get that chill. Now, I am sure, I was trying to recreate the feeling of performing for a crowd. I missed it that much, marching on a football field at halftime, sitting on a stage in Toronto or Orlando with a trumpet in hand, standing in a shitty club in Memphis holding a microphone. I thought I could replicate it with substances and sound. Often, I did.
It really doesn’t take that much mental maneuvering, though. I’ve found, after decades of struggle, that all it really takes is a relaxing place and a song. The best time I’ve had recently was blasting the Superman theme by John Williams on my phone, which I have taken to holding to my head like an old transistor radio when I don’t have headphones handy, and flying Beatrix around the driveway with my left arm.
If I live 1,000 years (doubtful) I won’t be able to beat that with a stick.
Life may not be about feeling good all the time, but in my experience, it damn well is about trying to. There are multi-billion dollar industries based on it. I’ve finally realized that when everything starts to crush in on me, work, politics, expectations, it’s time for a song. It’s time to dance. It’s time to press reset and listen to Katy Perry because I’m not too cool to do that, guys.
This isn’t supposed to be advice. Maybe your happy place is listening to Manson, or Whitney Houston, or K-Pop, or 311. This isn’t a defense of music, either. I mean, that happens on its own. I’m not going to tell you how to wipe your ass, either (front to back).
I used to think it was hard to live, but I’ve seen people who actually had a hard time living. Either their hardware breaks before the software does, or vice versa, and that’s all she wrote. It’s usually not hard to wake up every day, and this is coming from a guy whose first words when his left foot hits the ground every single day are, more often than not, sigh “fuck.”
What is hard, to me, is dealing with that shit. Dealing with monotony. Dealing with the world of garbage beyond my control. Dealing with the night, which is dark and full of terrors (thanks, George). In the Church of My Backyard, however, I get to enjoy the combined musical works of humanity and, thanks to modern technology, all I have to do is move my finger.
Sometimes it isn’t easy. Sometimes everything is ash in my mouth, and that’s the other side. Sometimes all I can do is hold someone and hunker down under the barrage. It passes.
These aren’t instructions. You can’t repeat it. Sorry guys, coupon may only be redeemed once. I’m the guy who doesn’t know anything, remember? I hate to keep including this disclaimer (I know that I know nothing), but it would be reckless not to. I take no responsibility for your happiness or lack thereof. There, my imaginary spiritual attorney is at ease.
From here, though, clinging to this cliff face, I can yodel that it ain’t all that bad. Not nearly. Not today.