Sunday, June 5, 2011

Obliviousness and Obsession Makes For Two Very Frustrating Months: I Really Love Okkervil River, or the 1st Post-Finn Blog

I get stuck; I get stuck all the fucking mind I mean. I guess "fixated" is the more apropos term, but to me, even though it may be entirely inside my head, it just feels like I can't move forward even though I'm trying my damnedest. When I find something to get excited about, my brain becomes that proverbial broken record, playing it over and over again, the same thing repeatedly, leaving virtually no room for anything else until I do something to move the figurative needle. That's the real reason why I started doing 19 Sank, While 6 Would Swim. Don't get me wrong, I feel a drive to write regardless of how amateurish my prose may be, and I'd like to think the things I have to say at least border on "slightly interesting" or "moderately valid", but really, it was a way to push the needle off the scratched groove, a way to purge. Ultimately, 19 Sank, While 6 Would Swim is a mental suppository, and thank God, because, in spite of the fact that I derive pleasure from these fixations, whether of the butt or the brain, constipation always starts to get uncomfortable. Eventually, you just need to get that shit out to start feeling normal again.

So I started the blog. It's sporadic as shit, I know. But when I find the time to put in the work, it tends to work for me, cleaning out the pipes (or the Parietal lobes or whatever) and helping me to focus on whatever new obsession might be waiting in the wings. The funny thing is, the very thing the blog helps me work through is the method I use to write these blogs. I guess it's not really a method as much as a compulsion, a fixation (there's that word again). Once I decide what I need to write about, I write probably too many blogs about it. And I'm not talking revisions, I'm talking full-on rewrites, a complete and totally different approach. Don't think you've missed anything though, you haven't. You don't get to read them, I just have to write them. It's ridiculous and pretty annoying really, having to write obsessively in order to break myself of obsession, but I've never really had a talent for being functional, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised that I have to obsess in order to be less makes very little sense, I know, but I usually make very little sense as a person, so I guess it is what it as, just as I am what I am (but I am no sailor, and I merely tolerate spinach, so make of it what you will). The point is, for 19 Sank I decide what I need to write about and write about it, then I decide what I wrote was not the right thing. I'm pretty sure I've used this phrase before, but what I write isn't wrong, it's just not right; it's not what I want to say.

Okay, so maybe it's a little right. If I write it, I give you my word I think it's important, it's just not the most important. So I write the blog, I read the blog, I realize the blog doesn't actually say what I want to, so I scrap it and move on to take 2, which usually turns into take 3, which probably morphs into take 4, and so on. This happens pretty much every time I write one of these things. For every 1 you read, I've probably written at least 3. It's almost humorous really, such a sloppy dude being so absolutely meticulous for something that only 8 people might read, but what can I say, I'm a fucking enigma, a puzzle within a conundrum. I do what I want, and what I do rarely makes sense.

This rewriting is actually enough of a problem that I had to put in place a "blog-law" for old B., "The Rule of 5". If I write 5 blogs, and am yet still unhappy with the results, I give up. I just try my best to move on. I figure if I can't say what I want to in 5 attempts, I'm either writing about the wrong thing or writing about the right thing at the wrong time, thus I retreat, reassess, and regroup. It's not an easy thing for me to do, but so far I've managed to do it with reasonable effect...but then I decided to write about Okkervil River.

So far, I've written 13 blogs about Okkervil River, not a single one right. So far I've tried to abandon the Okkervil River blog 7 times, but once I consciously decide to write about something else, I find myself completely disinterested after at best a paragraph. My thoughts instantly turning back to Don't Fall in Love with Everyone You See, or Black Sheep Boy, or The Stand Ins. Every time I even entertain the idea of writing about something other than Okkervil River, my mind shuts down and writing starts to become a chore rather than a joy and a release, and rather than writing, I drink a bunch of beer and listen to Okkervil River records and revel in how amazing they are. The fact is, I can't seem to write about anything other than Okkervil River because I think I need to write about Okkervil River.

But for as much as writing about this band feels like necessity to me, every single time I wrote anything, I knew even before I finished it, sometimes only a paragraph or two into it, I knew it was wrong. Even though the point I wanted to make was eluding me, every time I wrote about them, I knew I was even further away from the point I wanted to make than I was before. I knew I wasn't saying the things I wanted to say, I was just saying things that could be said.

So 2 nights ago, I sat down and read every O.R. blog I've written in succession (I save all of them until I post the "correct" one). And during this self-evaluation, the problem I was having finally occurred to me: I was approaching this blog the same way I approach every blog. Let's face it, my blogs are in a very general sense, kind of the same. Oh, I'm writing about different things, and with every subject, the content is going to be different as well, but really, my blogs are mostly me telling you why I love a band, or why I hate a band, or why something excites me or scares me or whatever, and when I do this, I tend to find the one thing that from an artistic standpoint separates (or for those negative ones, integrates) the subject in question from the herd. I give my opinion about something, and it's always based on a perspective that my friend Matt would almost no doubt call "arthouse junkie", because well, that's kind of what I am. I've said before I'm not a music snob, and I stand by that assertion, but I am pretentious when it comes to music because frankly, the pretentious side of things is usually the most artistic side of things, and that side is what gets me off the most.

And so with the Okkervil River blog, my approach was identical to that of nearly every other blog I've written. I wrote one that focused on the whole "No Depression" movement that started in the early 90's and talked about how all of those bands essentially were Country music with a Punk Rock mindset rather than a fusion between the two sounds, which from what I've gathered, was the initial intention. Don't get me wrong, I love a lot of those bands. Uncle Tupelo's catalog alone is reason enough to think the entire movement was absolutely amazing, but as far as making Country-Punk, they just didn't do it, but Okkervil River did...on their first two ep's and record, The Bedroom ep, the Stars Too Small to Use ep, and the debut album, Don't Fall in Love with Everyone You See.

I wrote another one juxtaposing the 2nd (Down the River of Golden Dreams) and 3rd (Black Sheep Boy) full length albums, plus the companion ep for the 3rd (Black Sheep Boy Appendix), talking about how the music on ...Golden Dreams
seems to be loosely thematically based on the opening track, "Down the River of Golden Dreams", a song written in 1930, and how the lyrics on Black Sheep Boy + ...Appendix use the Tim Hardin song "Black Sheep Boy" (the O.R. cover of the song opens the album the album by the way) and Hardin's life as thematic inspiration.

Then there was another one about 2007's The Stage Names (as a side note, it was with the release of this one that I began listening to Okkervil River on the recommendation of my friend Nick) and 2008's The Stand Ins, essentially a double album released piecemeal, about various aspects of Pop-Culture. And there were others, 10 to be exact, and regardless of how correct every one I wrote was, not a single one was right. But like I said, I was coming at Okkervil River the same way I attack all subjects; I was intellectualizing.

And in my defense, when it comes to Okkervil River it's really easy to do. It's easy to talk about Will Sheff's ability as a song writer to seamlessly integrate multiple styles into a single, unified Rock sound without loosing any of the integrity or uniqueness of those individual sounds, or how Sheff writes beautiful, thoughtful lyrics with intelligence and sophistication that literally no one else in music can currently compete with, or how, if you compartmentalize the individual Okkervil River records, each album has a sound that is all it's own, but when you listen to their catalog at a breadth, there's a singularity and cohesion to it that feels completely natural.

All of the things I've mentioned are valid reasons to listen to this band. They're all what normally would get me really pumped about a band, but none of them are why I listen to Okkervil River because they're all intellectual reasons for liking (or loving) this band, and for the first time in 17 years, I love a band on an almost purely instinctive level, and maybe it goes without saying, but that's a pretty big deal to me.

I love Okkervil River for how the make me feel. I love Okkervil River for the way Will Sheff's voice sounds when he sings the lines "And for a second, Something in me..." on "A Girl in Port", or "See how that light you once loved just won't shine?" on "Lost Coastlines". I love Okkervil River for the way the hair on my arms slowly rises with the tension on "The War Criminal Rises and Speaks", and as the song reaches the peak of its' crescendo and breaks out in a sort of controlled chaos, I break out in goosebumps, or the way"For Real" unexpectedly explodes for only seconds after a minute or so of quiet reluctance. I love Okkervil River for the way Will Sheff can take a gruesome subject like The Yogurt Shop Murders, and write a song that has so much heart without loosing a single bit of the abysmal darkness that a song like that should be shrouded in. I love Okkervil River for the way that "We Need a Myth" reminds me of how it felt to be innocent without ever attempting to pretend we are anything but. I love Okkervil River because I can't listen to "Unless It's Kicks" in the car without rolling the windows down, turning the stereo up, driving a little bit faster, and singing every word at the top of my lungs with a smile on my face the entire time.

And above all, I think I love Okkervil River for the sincerity and conviction of Will Sheff as a songwriter, singer, guitarist, multi-instrumentalist. When I listen to Okkervil River, I hear candor bleeding out from the speakers. Not only is what Sheff sings smart and compelling, I can't help but buy in to every notion, every idea, every phrase, every word that he breathes. You can hear that he both believes and believes in every thing he says, and his tenet doesn't simply make me believe, it makes me desperate to do so. Every song Okkervil River records is soaked in honesty and passion, and the combination is refreshing and absolutely breathtaking.

For a guy who so often gets caught up in the fact that music is art, I tend to sometimes forget that the forest is the trees. Because of my ennoblement of "music is art", I can become ultra-focused on what music and art "is", which makes it easy to forget what music and art "is supposed to be". Certainly, art should push us intellectually, but it should move us emotionally too. Sheff and Okkervil River make me think, but thankfully, they move me to no end.