Monday, March 23, 2009

context

While walking out of the dentist's office, my mind started to bounce from topic to topic, first thinking of how roughly 2/3 of the females working within seemed to share a penchant for the exact same cut of their peroxide-blonde hair, then thinking of whether the personalized "RU FLOSIN" license plate was cutesy/clever or instead a desperate cry for career choice validation, then trying to think of a good lesson plan for the day's class, all within the fifteen steps before finally reaching my car. But, as someone who professionally studies the elements of everyday life, it's always like this for me. The brain is a pinball, constantly propelled from thought bumper to thought bumper, and it's up to some other part of my consciousness to try to first find some usable patter and then try to do something with the resulting accumulation of thought. Sometimes, I think that the real difference between a hopefully normal person and the crazed, neurotic academic is a constantly shifting, sliding, rotating mental terrain.

I get to my car and pull out before the cd player finishes reading the enclosed disk and spits out sound. It's a compilation of The Replacements someone made for me years ago. Normal, healthy people would, I assume, try to lose themselves in the songs. Not I, however. Yet I do try. I pound the steering wheel in time, bob my head, attempt some typical "rock guy" gesticulations designed to follow the various crescendos of the main guitar part. But still, that "I must know what IT (whatever it may be) means" portion of my brain just cannot cut off.

For instance:

I was never a big fan of The Replacements growing up. I had nothing against them, but they just never entered my radar. I was too busy listening to ACDC, Iron Maiden, Motorhead, and Megadeth. When I finally did get to hear them, it was when they were opening up for Tom Petty. They were horrible...they opened with a pseudo-jazz song, played a lot of meandering stuff, and then started to antagonize the bored crowd. As a result, I didn't listen to them for years. I had, I told myself, better uses for my time than a band that clearly was unprofessional and didn't really care if anyone liked them.

About a decade later, long after they had broken up, someone made me a compilation cd of songs from throughout their career, and something did indeed click. I started to appreciate why people became fanatical about The Replacements. However, when I tried to discuss my new-found appreciation for the band with these fans, I found out I liked much different stuff than did the hard-core. I, for instance, liked a lot of their later songs. I liked the "wrong" version of some songs. I preferred the studio stuff to any live bootlegs I heard.

The difference ultimately came down to context. I didn't like The Replacements as a band representative of a certain segment of musical history. I just could not listen to "Left of the Dial" and think of it juxtaposed to the mainstream music released simultaneously. I never had to reconcile their move to more professional, maybe more commercial music as their career progressed. They were ahistorical for me, because I lacked the context embraced by the hardcore fan.

Of course, that context can be a double-edged sword. Many hardcore Replacement fans miss a lot of good songs from their last few albums out of a loathing for those final disks inspired by an unreasonably intense loyalty to their early work. Still, though, I sort of wish I had the context, because without it, The Replacements would only ever be "a band" for me...they would never become a cause.

So, as I was driving back to campus, instead of just listening to my Replacements cd, instead of losing myself in the moment, instead of just "being," I was analyzing. I started to apply my rambling theory of context to other things...television, movies, friendships, politics. I started to think about the connections between time and experience. I started to think about systems, logic, and disorder.

Again, plusses and minuses exist. A friend can burn me a disc of his favorite band growing up, but I now know that I can never experience it the way he does, that it will never mean the same thing to me as it does to him. This is because of the nature of my mind. It will throw me from topic to topic. It will push me into oceans of material before yanking me out, up towards the higher ground of context, of theory, of concepts...and then, it will plunge me back into the realm of minutiae.

I eventually got back to campus, miraculously found a parking spot, and the cd died in time with my car's engine. As I walked back to my office, I thought less about context than my insatiable, unstoppable need for the order I would never find. I unlocked my door, sat down at the computer, and did get a lesson plan out of it. It does make me wonder, though...is this neurotic tendency what threw me into academics, or is it caused by my choice of vocation?

Another mystery to ponder, I guess.

2 comments:

Christopher Vilmar said...

I was having this conversation in reverse with the guitar player in my band earlier today. Have you seen Heavy Metal Parking Lot? (The old one from the 80s, not the new one, though I suspect it's not unlike the first--haven't watched it yet.)

To sum up the first, it's interviews with people in the parking lot of a New Jersey Priest show sometime in the mid-80s. Kind of reality show before there was reality TV.

Anyway, after watching these subliterates yack on about how much "PRIEST IS SO FUCKIN' RAD!" or "I'M FUCKED UP!", it became clear to me just why metal was so uncool in the 80s. To paraphrase from Star Wars, "A more wretched hive of rednecks and idiocy" was surely not often found.

Now, mind you, the punk scene had its own brand of idiocy, but it wasn't uncommon to meet someone at a punk show who'd read a book in the past month.

I don't know where I'm going with this. Maybe more will come to me later.

themikedubose said...

I don't know where you're going either. All I know is that if you really have both a tenure track job and a band, I might have to give vent to my envy and punch you somewhere painful.

I actually knew a lot of very smart metalheads...especially amongst thrash fans. I suspect that in this documentary of which you speak, there was some selective editing going on.

Now, if you really wanted to see some boneheads, you should've filmed a Poison or Motley Crue parking lot.