Summer reading has wreaked havoc on my productivity. But, forever the optimist, I find that somehow my path through page after page these last months has contributed to a convergence of certain interrelated socio-cultural ideas, the discovery of which have made my leisure time well worth it. As the days pass idly, I can start to connect dots, stringing together themes that have carried over from one book to the next and, with a steady soundtrack humming in the background, from one song to the next. Today I made one such connection, thanks, in part, to Thomas Pynchon, David Mitchell, Arcade Fire and Tommie Sunshine. (I know... please continue to bear with me—I do realize I'm embarking on some nonsense meta-cultural string theory bullshit, but it might make for a fun read).
My summer reading adventures began with Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice—for more: Thomas Pynchon | Inherent Vice—in it, he tackles the corporate conspiracy of capitalism (among other things), therein referred to as "The Golden Fang," a thinly veiled reference to America's monetary vampires.
In Cloud Atlas—my current read—David Mitchell is in the process of taking me on a journey from 19th century Australia, to 1930's Belgium, to '60s California—coincidentally close to Pynchon's '70s setting in the Golden State—to... From a recent article I read on Mitchell, I know that my literary travel will eventually progress to a Philip K. Dickian future. And then back again. It is in Mitchell that I am able to reinforce my point about interconnectedness. In seemingly disparate happenings, years apart in their occurrence, the strands of humanity carry on interrupted. To quote him from his recent NY Times interview, Mitchell says, ‘Good God. I just realized. It’s about people. It’s not about metaphysics!’ The reason we love the books we love—it’s the people. It’s the human mud, the glue between us and them, the universal periodic table of the human condition. It transcends.”
Indeed. And while it may be humanity that truly fuels my furious page turning, I can't help but think that metaphysics are playing into it as well. Clearly this post is becoming a testament to that.
And here now we reach the musical meat of my rambling and, fittingly, it's Twitter—that ethereal internet-based stream of collective consciousness—that wrapped everything up in a neat little package for me. Tommie Sunshine, an astute and entertaining voice in music and culture, posted up a remix to our shared favorite track from the new Arcade Fire record, The Suburbs. The song you ask? "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)." Coincidentally (or not...) Arcade Fire has provided me with the highlight of summer thus far, their closing set at Lollapalooza coinciding with the highest heights of my 30th birthday celebration. And, in that I am not alone. As of last week, they have the top selling album in the country.
To quote from "Sprawl II": "Quit these pretentious things and just punch the clock. These days my life, I feel it has no purpose. But late at night the feelings swim to the surface." Clearly the monotonous drone of the dominant lifestyle of suburban worker bees has affected Win Butler, Regine Chassagne and the rest of the ranks of Arcade Fire. Much as it has Thomas Pynchon. And most likely Mr. Sunshine as well.
There's something about the beautiful melancholy of this song that makes it stand out so brightly. And rightfully so. The grind may be oppressive, but looked at in the right light—or at least taking note of it's necessity and finding the right way to get past it and make the best of things—is the balance that we all hope to find. The song's placement on the back end of the record, with it's steady indie-disco thump, leaves us introspective yet smiling. No one really likes a Spieglberg ending, the machine just tricks us into the delusional thought that we are supposed to. But that's too easy, and clearly not how the world really rotates. As Mitchell put it, the true beauty is in the mud. If everything were on sparkling, shiny, happy ending, it would lose it's essence. Without the grit, we cease to recognize the beauty of what's underneath when the soot is washed away. For me—and I sense I'm not alone here—that is infinitely more satisfying and thought provoking. In seeking out the mythical silver lining—with or without a Cloud Atlas to help us find it—we discover true, un-marketed, un-mass produced or otherwise generic beauty. And, to find this in two prolific authors, a visionary DJ and a No. 1 album is truly a silver lining.
Now back to work.
—Joshua P. Ferguson
Arcade Fire - Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) [Tommie Sunshine's Quaalude Edit] by tommiesunshine