Review Summary: Sometimes you laugh so hard you cry.
I first heard about nihilism when I saw The Big Lebowski
. At the time, I thought it was hilarious. Here are these guys who use their belief in nothing to justify antagonizing the Dude for no reason. Coen Brothers are genius, right? This still holds true for to me some extent. It’s still hilarious, but now for different reasons.
My real introduction to nihilism was during the first semester of my senior year of high school. We read Grendel
, by John Gardner, and discussed it in class. I’ve always been the smart asshole, the teacher’s pet, the kid who knows all the answers and controls the discussion, and the Grendel
discussion was no different. In fact, I was designated discussion leader. Naturally, I focused in on the rampant nihilism present throughout the book. When I went home to read the book, I needed some music. I can read without music, but I generally like to have something on. I had recently acquired Warning
’s Watching from a Distance
, and that was the soundtrack to Grendel
. The two works are actually fused together in my mind now; when I listen to Warning, I think about Grendel
, and when I think about Grendel
, I can almost hear the bleak doom metal chords ringing out.
But Watching from a Distance
wasn't the most important element of Grendel
. I downloaded one other album while reading. Leaves Turn Inside You
. I had read a review that compared them to Fugazi, and since I like Fugazi just as much as everyone else, I decided I needed to hear Unwound. I actually clearly remember downloading the album because of the conversation I had with my dad while waiting to put it onto my iPod.
“You downloading something? Netflix isn’t fuckin’ working.”
“Yeah. It’s supposed to sound like Fugazi or something.”
“I saw them live. When your mom and I lived in DC. We went with our neighbor, she was into punk rock.”
“Are you serious, dad?”
“Yeah. I’m not a huge fan of them. Too abrasive.”
My dad mainly listens to dad rock – it’s an appropriate nickname for the genre. His favorite musicians include Bruce Springsteen, U2, and The Clash. The year when Bruce Springsteen performed for the Super Bowl halftime show was the year my dad threw out his back trying to dance like Springsteen. It was also the year I introduced him to his favorite modern band – The Gaslight Anthem.
I also remember the first time I listened to Leaves
. It was maybe half an hour later. I was at my homework desk, reading and taking notes over Grendel
. I had slipped my Audiotechnica M50s over my head, and pushed “play.” The feedback tones were intriguing for the first fifteen seconds. And then, I got suspicious. Why was the feedback so long?
I decided to keep listening, though. Fugazi comparisons are not meant to be taken lightly, after all. I was about to take my headphones off in disgust when Unwound actually started playing. There’s no way I’ll ever be able to sit through two minutes of feedback again.
My opinion of most albums decreases with time. Very few albums ever “grow on me.” Even albums that are regarded as “hard to get into” I generally like on the first listen. I hate referring to Circle Takes The Square, but As the Roots Undo
is a perfect example of this. It was one of my favorite albums almost instantly. It wore off though. There was a period in which I disliked it more every time I listened to it. Hm, did this album get better? Nope. Minus half a star
. My rating has since stabilized at a solid four stars. I recognize the faults and the strengths, and have reconciled both with each other. It only took about thirty listens.
was no exception to this rule. Overlooking my problem with the feedback, I absolutely loved it after I finished. I didn't replay it, though. I never replay something instantly. I put on Watching
and finished working on Grendel
My journey with Leaves had only just begun, though. I listened to it almost nightly for about a week, and then decided that it had to be a five star album. I take my ratings seriously. A five star rating is not something I hand out every day. In fact, I have a test. If I believe an album is perfect (or near perfect) I don’t listen to it for a month. I let other ideas in. And then, I listen again, and decided then if it’s a true five.
I didn't make it three weeks.
had permeated my existence. Something about Justin Trosper’s tortured singing and the unorthodox guitar work demanded my attention. The instrumental interplay was perfect. Almost Fugazi-like, if you will. Certain songs had almost brought me to tears. No song had ever done that for me. I experimented with listening to it. Was one disc better than the other?
I listened to each disc endlessly, trying to determine which was better. I ultimately concluded that both were perfect. And, for the first time in three years, I cried out of sadness.
October All Over
did it. I was singing – mumbling, perhaps – along, and got to the line “Sometimes you laugh so hard you cry.” Everything about it struck me at once. It was absurd. Not in the traditional way; in a nihilistic way. Nothing has meaning.
I almost cried to Below the Salt
, as well. “Below the salt means less than something that I said.” What did he say that has meaning?
Goddammit, what did Trosper say that means something?
I don’t suppose it’s possible to know – but that’s part of the beauty of Leaves
. The rest of the love story is cliché; after falling in love, I declared it my favorite album and we lived happily ever after. That’s not to say, however, that I don’t cry to October All Over
, sometimes, though.
I do. I cry so hard I laugh.