Best of Chums

And Other Stories We Tell

"I'm into shit that you don't even know...."

I've found myself listening to a lot of music from the band Harlem recently. Recommendation courtesy of Mr. Monette. They're really a fantastic band, in the literal sense. There's something intoxicatingly ernest about the soft cheesy lyrics. It's almost comic in its expression of utter infatuation and mournful yearning. I remember scenes from old cartoons, with hearts bulging out of chests and tongues hitting the floor.

There's also something really lo-fi about them, as if you're always listening to it in a car or in a loud smokey diner. It gives them an air of authenticity, a seeming longevity, as if they are a voice that stands apart from the mere passing of time. There songs are replete with cooing, oo-ing and ah-ing and all manner of primordial sound. These sounds are the eternal weak spot of all who have been infants. Such sounds function subconsciously and are associated with undifferentiated life, that first and crucial intimacy.

I find myself yearning for this simplicity of feeling, sometimes. The ability to reduce the variables of human existence into a few simple chords is a powerful thing. This kind of music speaks to the that yearning and validates it, justifies it. It props it up where it would otherwise sink. To want such a world is a kind of tepid idealism, but an idealism nonetheless insofar as it speaks to something true within us. It's not a desire for some kind of intelligible order though, rather for a kind of release from the burden of thought, the ability to lose oneself in the feeling. This re-immersion of thought into action lies at the heart of all appeals to authenticity, to return.

Perhaps it is this vulgar authenticity that we yearn for most in our culture as it stands today. There was a time when Star Trek ruled television; now it is Don Draper, a nihilist time traveler. Our protagonists are serial killers, mafia, drug dealers, meth lab chemists, bootleggers, bikers, lawyers, polygamists, vampires, and some kids who sing show-tunes. What this shows is a certain susceptibility to authenticity, a conscience so ground down by grave misfortune as to need any and every succor. We have yet to see how this will take shape. Given that this yearning for authenticity is ultimately tragic, a projection of an image onto a nature that will not yield to it, it probably won't end well.