Sunday, June 16, 2013

Sorrow: A Joyful Day at MoMaPS1 w/ The National

Inside the prison walls of the MoMaPS1 I stood next to my glory hole and stared at the entrance waiting for my buddy to arrive.  You can learn a lot about a place and yourself when watching people walk into a venue.  You stand there faultless and perfect as one suggests of their own character, as I do, and I judge every person who walks in the door. Why not, I'm doing it in my head, so I'm not hurting anyone, plus I paid to torture myself and I want to see who my fellow sufferers are.  We all came for some reason, it's just 6 long hours before we discover whether we're better than who we were when we came.

We grabbed two beers each and strided out of the corrugated cement cell where they kept four hitch trailers and two kegs.  The trailers were 70's style, David Hockney, motel parking lot, middle of Mesa AZ.  They were not for the band's equipment. Teal, faded, paint streaks down each side and flat tires leaning wonky on the cement, balanced errantly by their crippled metal hitch arms.  "You can definitely hide a body in one of those things" I said, as we turned to get some beers.   We needed alcohol.  The next 6 hours we would be subjecting ourselves to a performance by the band The National.  Not that this renowned band sucks so bad that we need to get hammered in order to sit through their show; on the contrary. An idea by an artist named Ragnar Kjartansson was to have a band play one of their songs over and over and over again for a 6-hour period in order to study human behavior regarding monotony, repetition, sanity, cerebral data collection, how people cope with faucet drip drip drip earworm fuck.  The National just happened to have been approached and decided to take the challenge. There's much to be said about saying yes.  In that key decision we discover the driver behind the art, or what we as spectators believe we took note of while watching said performance; the culpability of a feat men die to find in their lives to test themselves, to learn more about their limitations and ultimately, when in front of a crowd, impress others.

Some might look at a day spent listening to a broken record, repeating and repeating and repeating relentlessly til the batteries give out, or your neighbor who runs the building kills the circuit breaker on your apartment  before celebrating with a revelatory whaling on your wall "try to play that fucking song again now asshole!" as a mere form of torture.  For some, maybe.  For others, like that girl Brianne Larsen who lived in the apartment below me in college who kept "Fade Into You" by Mazzy Starr on Repeat until she finished cleansing her soul of the memories of my friend's infidelity.  These things, these redundancies, they often work you out, or they fuck you up even more.  Hopefully you clear new cognitive crossroads, manipulate and solidify memories so you can tap into them the next time you listen.  I don't know for sure what Ragnar is trying to achieve but I do know that when someone listens to a song over and over again, they're doing it for a reason, and that reason is always to remember; to go back to another time.  I might want to forget what's going on in my daily life and therefore I play my favorite song over and over.  This takes my mind off of what I currently dislike, and places me comfortably where I'd rather be; where I once was. With time, we always only remember the good things, and with a melody on infinite repeat, all we have is time.

We waited in line to get into the tin dome they constructed for Sunday Sessions at MoMaPS1.  This was the finale for the space and we were there to see the band fall apart, stutter, forget their lines, fall to the floor in a heart attack wham grab the chest curl up reach to the crowd and shake til their dead.  The people around us, in their slouching beanies, tight orange distressed khakis, Jean button down shirts, with chain cross necklaces and hand-knit sweaters were hoping for the same deterioration, whether they'd admit it or not.  We stood in the crowd and looked at the Coast of Utopia on stage.  They had cameras everywhere like a movie set(of which they must've been filming a documentary) and then a fog mist machine blowing up behind the lead guitarist. The stage was gray, luminous, foreboding, like the song they had to play.  A song that starts with "sorrow found me when I was young" and consists of lines such as "sorrow that put me on the pills" and "I live in a city sorrow built". Not a song for the kids of course, but a melodramatic tour de force that might make you want to jump from that ledge of whatever cliff you've chosen for your last leap.  The song plays its roll, as do the actors on stage.  We as the audience were the willing cheerleaders.  As the song would come to an end, everyone in the crowd would clap and whistle, and come to a calm.  Seconds later, "sorrow found me when I was young".  And the cheers grew louder and more supportive.  I looked at my friend as we too hooted and smacked our hands into each other, and I said, I think we would cheer them on until they're so close to death we wouldn't know we killed 'em.  The crowd, or maybe humans by nature, love to see suffering and after all, that's what we were there for.  Could they do it, could they make it through?  Of course they could.  After three hours, we wished they had to play for twelve.  Six was nothing.  It wasn't the time that became the focus but rather where their heads had to have gone while singing such a depressing song.  Who were they thinking about when they sang "sorrow's my body on the waves"?  "Sorrow's the girl inside my cave"?  What girl? As Matt Berninger, vocalist for The National, would look out on the crowd, a smiling, happy, gleaming, cheery fucking crowd, egging him on to sing a song we really have no clue the meaning behind, I stood and thought to myself that this guy hasn't smiled once.  He must actually hate us.  He must hate our ignorance and excitement for the sheer fact that he has been trying over and over to convey to us the meaning behind this song, and yet we applaud every chink in their armor that appears as the hours march on.  At one point the lead guitarist stood his guitar on its neck and started patting it on the back like a set of bongos.  Some actions were surely out of boredom or just a desire for changing the pace.  Others were absolute brilliance, like where the drummer stepped off stage for a piss break, and they held the song's beginning melody on repeat, low and strummed, and once he returned, he picked up on the 4th beat of the verse, and everyone went nuts.  We wanted more, we wanted to hear Sorrow - we wanted to feel Sorrow, we wanted to know Sorrow for what or whom it was written, and instead we learned that the fantasy that this is, was anything but torture.

I wanted to believe that they took this challenge so they could discover something inside themselves, and learn that this song would be one they'd never want to play again for the next 10 years.  I wanted them to faint, atrophy their muscles, storm off the stage in defiance of continuing, have some sort of nervous breakdown.  I think, if anything, they will play this song in the future and resent the fact that they can never play it with as much emotion as they could achieve this day.  They'll be annoyed that anyone hearing Sorrow live at a future venue will not really know what they accomplished with this song, how close they came to this song, and that they'll never respect any song more, no matter what they write.

Looking up at these men, we were jealous.  These men were given an opportunity we as men look for all our lives.  And not much exists anymore that is impressive; that hasn't been done.  Beautiful women in the audience with their smiling faces, enchanted minds, bobbing their heads with the cadence of the song - they take away from the fact that this was supposed to be difficult.  Their faces would be motivation enough to continue through the night. And yet, these girls in the crowd would happily bed these guys for even more reason now then before.  We want that awe, that admiration.  Instead we will feel our sorrow while watching them close out the 6th hour of their journey and wishing we were them.  Wishing we were the ones achieving something monumental in our lives, but rather we're left to stride out those cement walls with the rest our peers, contemplating our lives and awaiting our moment to shine...until then though, we'll flick on The National's "Sorrow" and play it through, again and again, to bring us right back here to forget what might irk us tomorrow, because no longer does a song of "sorrow" bring us anything but joy.

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