Song Reflections: Tool “Vicarious”

This song is quite possibly the meanest song I like.  I’m hesitant to admit that I relate to this song, but I do.  I have that selfish voice in my head, the one that watches someone in suffering and says “better you than me.”  And I really don’t agree, don’t want to agree with that bit about the world being a hostile, impersonal place — but I’d be lying if I didn’t wonder about that, too.

So it’s about accepting an inconvenient, against-my-value truth. But at the same time, there is a sense of relief in doing so.  I don’t have to lie, pretend or manipulate things to be what they are not.  And the question I come back to is, even if I have these against-our-values sentiments in me, am I still allowed to exist?  To be loved and accepted?

This song is lyrically very hard, but yet music is so majestic, propelling and heroic — that the ugly truths I have to accept in the lyrics, I find some sort of affirmation through the music.  As if coming to face-to-face with these truths has an element of courage.  I do fall way short of perfection or some sort of moral high ground, but I do make genuine efforts to become a better version of myself.  That’s an effort where I both try to improve my thoughts and actions and come to peace with accepting what I am — settling somewhere middle in-between.  And this song provides me with a sense of resolve to keep making that effort — to face hard truths, and to keep on living with it.

Song Reflections: The Jelly Jam “Stay Together”

All relationships come to either one of two possible ends: either stay together (till one dies?) or come apart.  And this song is the dread and desperation one feels about the latter end, and not wanting to accept that.  It’s a familiar feeling to me, that sense of wanting to hang on but your hands are slipping, you can’t hold on.

Relationships are fragile.  I have a number of long-lasting ones and I’d like to think that I take good care of people close to me — but I also am keenly aware that any of them could be completely destroyed at any time.  It only takes a single devastating act to obliterate whatever trust you built.  Not that I live in a constant fear that I could screw things up so badly any moment, I don’t — but I strive to remain diligent.  For example, that cliché about telling people that you love them — well, I do.  I hug and tell them that I love them, if something were to happen to one of us, I am hopeful that my loved ones know that I do love them.

I am grateful that for the most part, I don’t have to experience this feeling in my real life.  But I’ve felt it, and I carry with it, and it’s good to be able to feel it in the safe confines of a song.  It’s like being able to express my private feelings to a trusted friend.  I am grateful.

Song Reflections: Toad the Wet Sprocket “Amnesia”

I love Toad the Wet Sprocket.  They are my all-time heroes, though the parts I particularly gravitate toward are their heavier and darker side.  Their reunion record seems to heavily favor the sunnier side, at least in terms of the sound, if not the lyrics.  I miss the dark Toad, though I still cherish what they gave us back in the 90s.

“Amnesia” is quite possibly the most abrasive, darkest song in their catalog.  Lyrically, I can’t quite make out what this is about, though I don’t mind the mystery — the intrigue is part of what makes me come back to a song over and over.

That being said, my take on this is that it’s about desperation.  A desperate person takes desperate measures.  Which seldom work out, but a desperate person doesn’t see other options.

Another thing is that a desperate person is like a different personality — desperate me doesn’t remember what it’s like to be normal, that things turned out OK other times.  So afterward, when you look back at your desperate actions, it’s hard to see how that person made those decisions.  I mean, you can understand the reasons, but you may not see why the response had to be that drastic.  It’s hard to relate.  You would not do the same when you are in a different frame of mind, even if all other elements about the circumstances were the same.

I used to be this way myself — my life had more drama.  And in those dramatic moments, I would take these desperate measures, which produced more drama and desperation.  It’s very hard when it’s set up as a pattern, but when you’re in a calmer state of mind, you may want to device a plan to reach out to that desperate version of yourself.  To reach out to that heat of the moment and remind the desperate you that there is a better way, a better time, a better frame of mind.  A drama doesn’t last forever.  When the emotion is strong and when I’m looking for some kind of quick fixes or drastic measure to fix everything — I’ve learned to just sit with it.  Not act out of my feelings.  No, I don’t remember being any different, during those times.  But I did receive the message from the better me, and I just sit and wait.

Because desperate acts only yield more desperation.


Song Reflections: System of a Down “Deer Dance”

This is a sobering song.  I listen and be humbled, and in that humbling feeling I find a sense of relief. Being proud and arrogant takes a lot of energy to keep up the pretense.  There is a relief in admitting that we fall short.  We make mistakes, we fail, we disgrace ourselves.

Here is a very angry and political song, but at the core of it, it makes us face our weakness, our tendency to try and get away with taking advantage of other people.  When you know they can’t fight back, you know you won’t get caught.

I’m a Japanese living in US, two countries that have history of invading other countries, appropriating what they have and shoving its own culture down other communities’ throat.  But on a more micro-scale, I’m a father.  And as much as I love my children, I often feel the temptation to get away with things I wouldn’t dare pull off in front of other adults.  If I was a true man of integrity, I’d uphold the principles and values I intend to impart on my children — but when it’s inconvenient or when I am feeling frustrated then I may give in and pull something on my own kids.  Something I wouldn’t do if I really thought I could get caught.

Which relates to the idea of bullying.  Bullying may be an evil act but that doesn’t necessarily make bullies evil people.  They are carrying their angst and frustrations and are without resources to fight off the temptations of the situations where they won’t get caught or hurt. You could even argue that an entire country or government may be the same — certain groups of people within may be in a situation where they can’t and won’t fight off the temptation.   It does not excuse or justify their actions, but it helps us realize something important.

Some acts have more dire consequences than others, but even if our transgressions are of forgivable sort — we need to own up to the fact that we fall prey to these temptations.  We need to become aware, repent, ask for forgiveness, and seek to improve.  I believe that these growth won’t occur while we’re spending our energy keeping up the pretense of being high and lofty.

So I listen to songs like Deer Dance, and wonder if or when I have “pushed the weak around” myself.  And be humbled.

Song Reflections: Pet Shop Boys “You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You’re Drunk”

We’ve all been in that dysfunctional, unstable relationships.  One where you’re tip-toeing around the other person wondering, “is this working out? Is he what I perceive himto be?  Am I safe here?”  And you’re tossed about like a leaf on a stormy sea, with every flip-flop of the other party’s whims sending you spiraling down in every which direction.  Is it me or is he just in a bad mood?  All the wondering and straining, trying to figure out what’s going on inside somebody else’s head.  It’s taxing and stressful.  Some people give up and choose to be alone instead.

To look at it on a positive way, my perception is that being drunk is more revealing than concealing of truths.  Pretending takes more finesse and control, and you have less of those resources when you’re compromised from substance.   So the good news may be that he loves you, but then the question is — how often is he drunk?  Which person are you with more?  If he shows his affection to you only when he’s drunk, then you may be temped to keep him drunk more often — but I’m sure there are downsides to that.

Sadly, as much as we’d like to think that we are consistent, same person all the time, in truth we are not.  I am a different person when I’m in a bad mood.  I will not be the same when I have had 2 hours of sleep the night before or a raging headache or digestive problems.  It’s a bit like everybody has a very minor form of multiple personality disorder.  The grumpy me may not remember what a happy me feels like, how he thinks about things, how he treats other people.  The same is true on the receiving end, too.  Your perceptions and assessment of other people are colored by your own past experience, fears, and stories.  It’s hard to see everything clearly, all the time.

So it’s a dynamic, ever-changing landscape, this thing called relationship.  There are best practices, of course, but some of it just comes from accepting it for what it is.  This song is a bittersweet reminder of the changing nature of a relationship.  It may not offer solutions or ray of hope — but it’s nice to know, that someone other than myself knows what it’s really like.