not worried about it

words

the music is boring me to death

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Okay, so the “write a blurb about every new movie” thing fell by the wayside.  And now that class has resumed—film class, at that—it’s probably not coming back.  Onwards and upwards.

I have class in seven hours and really shouldn’t be all awake and philosophical right now, but I got stuff to talk about.  Stuff that was prompted, initially, by this, a typically excellent Robert Christgau review of an ancient, awesome Suede album that I’ve been playing a lot over the past month.  Particularly that last sentence: “If you think their victories over depression have nothing to do with you, be grateful you can make do with a report from the front.”

As with almost any mention of depression and music, I was reminded of Cat Power and looked her up in the Consumer Guide to see what Bob had to say.  His review of 1998’s Moon Pix gave me pause.  “Slow sadness.  Slow sadness about one’s inability to relate.  And not to audiences.  Hell is other people.”

As an objective description of the content of Moon Pix, Christgau’s words are dead-on.  Which begs the question: is the ability to capture, really capture, what depression feels like artistically worthwhile?  How about laudable?

I don’t know if I have an answer.  But the question matters to me.  For the record, I listened to Moon Pix every day, several times a day, for most of fall and winter 2007.  I was also deeply, tangibly depressed.  The circumstances are unimportant.  What matters is, for the better part of a year, Moon Pix hit me more directly than almost any other work of art has before or since.

Also important is that I can barely stand to listen to it anymore.

Moon Pix is not a tragic album.  The elegant technique of a good tragedy requires a certain amount of psychic energy precluded by true depression.  Instead, Moon Pix meanders.  It gets lost.  It stumbles upon moments of extraordinary beauty and then hurriedly buries them in its ugly sonic landscape.  Cat Power (aka Chan Marshall) is empirically talented, and it’s not as if there isn’t the rare song with hooks to goad listeners along (I like “Metal Heart” a lot.).  But on the whole, it’s not an album I would stick my neck out for, aesthetically.

But where does truth enter into the equation?  Does it enter into the equation?  Because as easily as I can dismiss the willfully difficult production and rationalize away the infrequent moments of pop excitement, I cannot deny how true it felt to listen to Moon Pix from start to finish two years ago.  How “American Flag”‘s opening whine of distortion came to feel like an old friend welcoming me back into the bleak fray.  How the nihilistic closing lines of “Moonshiner” (“I wish we could go to hell.”) seemed less melodramatic than bluntly observant.  How much “Colors and the Kids” could hurt, and how good it could feel.

“Colors and the Kids” is in many ways the focal point of what I’m trying to get at here.  When I was depressed, when everything seemed to move at an unbearably slow clip and the notion that better days lay ahead was laughable, at best, it stirred something in me.  And that something wasn’t unambiguously positive.  One of the myths about depression is that it somehow helps to know that it’s possible to feel better, that other people are out there feeling much, much better than you, leading much, much happier lives than you.  And the same applies to art.  It’s a Wonderful Life is a great movie, but watching it when you’re depressed is like adding salt to the wound.

Listening to “Colors and the Kids” now—which, according to iTunes, I haven’t done since June of 2008—I find much to admire, but at the same time the song practically begs you to turn it off.  Marshall’s voice is so beautiful, so fragile, so hard to listen to that it inspires retreat.  It’s a beautiful day outside, I don’t want to deal with this right now.  The song has nowhere near enough layers to justify its six-and-a-half minute length.  But none of this occurred to me, much less bothered me, when I was sad, sad, sad.  For better or for worse, “Colors and the Kids” and Moon Pix sound like depression, real depression, in all its self-absorbed, mind-numbingly slow glory.

So I do, ultimately, take issue with Robert Christgau’s dismissal of Moon Pix, and his Suede review provides me the ideal framework to express it: If you think Chan Marshall’s failure to overcome depression has nothing to do with you, be grateful you can make do with a report from the front.

For the time being, I’m going to continue not listening to Moon Pix.  But it will be there if I need it again, and that’s no small comfort.

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Written by Tim

September 10, 2009 at 1:49 am

Posted in Music

One Response

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  1. “The invitation to leave your depression behind, whether through medication or therapy or effort of will, seems like an invitation to turn your back on all your dark insights into corruption and infantilism and self-delusion of the brave new Mcworld. Instead of saying ‘I am depressed’ you want to say ‘I am right!’ but all the available evidence suggests that you have become a person who’s impossible to live with and no fun to talk to.”
    -Jonathan Franzen “How to be Alone”

    Laudability doesn’t matter in this business of relating to the half-present depressed person. Of course one can make the argument that How to be Alone is more aesthetically pleasing than Moon Pix. Still, amen Timmy.

    Jess

    June 3, 2010 at 7:49 am


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