Sunday, May 1, 2011

Lb4Lb#8: The Unauthorized Biography of Tadmaster

Well, I thought about the Army,
Dad said, "Son, you're fucking high..."
More than 10 years ago, I was a U.S. servicemember stationed in England. I stood a rotation of 12-hour shifts, and had a house full of small children and a pregnant wife. Our unit was remotely deployed, so we frequently had to drive 2 hours to get to our home base - where we had our medical appointments, Air Force admin stuff, shopping for U.S. foods (that we could afford), and what not. Life consisted of long, boring stretches interspersed with ennui and tension, depending on the whims of our leaders.

But we had friends, and we tried to keep each others' spirits up. One of them gave me a pirated cassette tape of a new album he had been digging. He knew I liked Ben Folds Five, and I was happy to give this new album a listen, even with the long, odd title: The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner.

I should warn you,
I go to sleep.
That first line in that first song spoke volumes. God, I knew exactly what this guy was singing about - feeling disengaged from everyone and dropping out, while at the same time feeling turmoil and passion within that you couldn't get out - because it made you shut down.

I remember trips down to base where I put this increasingly battered cassette into the player, and sang at the top of my lungs, tears spurting out of my eyes, fist pounding the left hand piano part on the dashboard. "I know it seems that I don't care/But something in me does, I swear!" That catharsis kept me awake - and probably alive, since Narcoleptic adventures on the roads of England are not conducive to survival.

No, I don't believe in God,
So I can't be saved.
Each track revealed a different piece of my own back story. I was still new to being a father and husband, and being a selfish college prick was still fresh in my mind. The wreckage of relationships, the bemusement of dealing with drama that others felt and I didn't, or the simple honest truths about myself that I was learning to come to terms with - like my skeptical non-theism - had now found a soundtrack.

Everyone knows that music can do this; it's not unusual to find songs that capture some vital thing about you and help you remember it or relive it. But it's rare that you find a whole album that does it. This is music that helps you understand and embrace the things about yourself that you were avoiding. The things that you would be embarrassed to admit were causing you pain, because that sounds like something one of those self-absorbed hipsters would say.

And no one wants to be seen as a self-absorbed hipster, right?

If you're afraid they might discover
Your redneck past
There are a hundred ways to cover your redneck past
They'll never send you home
Your Redneck Past
Everyone has something they think they need to hide. Isn't it wonderful to find that the best way to keep it all hidden is to put it out there where everyone can see it?
These songs were never about me, of course. They aren't necessarily about Ben Folds, either, but they are revealing. The appeal for me has always been the way he is so open, honest and deep in his writing. But at the same time, these songs were funny and self-deprecating. You don't write about what a fool you think you are unless you've accepted that about yourself, and learned to enjoy it.

And that's where this album took me. Through the agony and the irony, it gave me something to relate to, and then held up a mirror so I could laugh at the Mess I was in, and appreciate the good things I had.

And how we just made fun
Of those who had the guts to try and fail
At the end of the day, I realized I was trying. I wasn't doing a great job of avoiding failure, but I was trying. You can always do better - that's the point. You will always have failures, big and small.

And for me, having a biography in song helps get through all of that. That's why I've bought this album several times - making up for that pirated copy that sits in a box in my basement, now.

Sweet dreams, Reinhold Messner, whoever you are!

Just the three of us took flight that night
Uncle Richard, me and James Earl Jones

And the pilot he gave me a blanket
And the tall dark man sang to me in deep
Rich tones...

Goodnight, goodnight sweet baby
The world has more for you
Than it seems
Goodnight, goodnight
Let the moonlight take the lid off your dreams

No comments: