As an amateur scribbler, one of my biggest challenges is how to derive inspiration from contentment. It’s easy to write in an exhortatory, critical, or angry state of mind. When life is great and everything’s in its place, though, comment seems superfluous. The closest thing I had to a deep thought this week was how much I appreciate unseasonably cool days in the summer — the sun is up early, the landscape is blooming and buzzing with abundant life; topping it off with chilly mornings and comfortable days is about as good as it gets. Maybe a true artist can turn that sentiment into something people might enjoy reading, but I’m afraid I lack that ability.
Luckily, Isaac Brock seems to be one of those rare talents who can channel contentment and mellowness into compelling songs. Modest Mouse’s new album, The Golden Casket, was released yesterday, and Brock seems to have achieved a serene perspective that he credits to being a new father — “Once you’ve brought people into the world, it’s necessary to figure out ways to make things better for your brood, to make things work. You can’t be too fucking cynical — it’s only right.” The virtue of moderation, the sheer miracle of being alive, the unfathomable mystery of a complex universe, the necessity of optimism even, or especially, when things look dark and hopeless — these themes recur in song after song, with Brock’s usual penchant for memorable lyrical imagery (“Our head is a cage, and the parrot loves to talk”). He, along with Neil Fallon from Clutch, is one of the two people in contemporary rock music whom I feel approach genuine poetry in their fertile, suggestive lyrics.
I’m a relative latecomer to their music, having only started listening to them in the early aughts, around the time of their hit record, Good News for People Who Love Bad News. One benefit, I think, to discovering an artist with an already-existing back catalog, is the ability to see both the strong and weak points within a coherent whole. The diehard indie fans from the late ’90s tend to treat each new evolution of the band’s sound as a betrayal; mainstream normies like myself are able to be a bit more equanimous. Stereogum, in reviewing their 2015 record Strangers to Ourselves, sniffed about the band’s “Whole Foods-backyard-BBQ era,” which, for those of you unacquainted with the vagaries of status and fashion, is not a compliment. (It’s like musical chairs — if you pause to ask why and when Whole Foods and backyard BBQ became hopelessly lame and uncool, you’ve already missed your chance to grab a seat, and everybody’s laughing at you.) A recent Twitter thread displays a common sight: indie music snobs attempting to elevate their personal taste into a Spenglerian iron law of decline and decay. (Perhaps the problem isn’t that the band’s sound has changed for the worse; it’s just that you expect them to continue making you feel the way you did when you were an angsty adolescent, and those days are long gone.) I’m sure The Golden Casket will add more tarnish to whatever indie credibility the band still retained, but for those of us who aren’t plagued with self-conscious anxiety over the simple pleasure of straightforward happiness, there’s a lot to enjoy here.
But when he [Ernst Jünger] finally realized what Hitler had done in pursuit of the same ideal of strength that he had himself cherished, even he was obliged to consider that his espousal of Darwin (the struggle for existence) and Nietzsche (the will to power) might have depended on some sort of liberal context for its rational expression.
That’s a very astute way of putting it. I’ve always interpreted Nietzsche within some sort of liberal context. I’m not a scholar, so I don’t know, and even less do I care, whether he truly, in his heart of hearts, believed in his illiberal, amoral rhetoric, or whether he was just idly playing with ideas that would become compact and explosive in the coming decades. I’m not interested in divining the quiddity of the man’s philosophy; I’m only interested in what use I can make of him, what his writing can suggest to me. I suppose in practice, this could reduce the Overman to little more than a motivational slogan, or worse, a marketing catchphrase, but I also suppose we have little choice but to steer a middle course between the Scylla of bovine domestication and the Charybdis of megalomaniacal destruction.
As this morning’s Interlude suggests, I enjoy listening to “pagan folk,” to use a catch-all term. Aside from the occasional black metal extremists who burn down churches, most of these modern pagans present themselves more like bardic historians, or musical scholar-reenactors, rather than rampaging barbarians. Today’s Mongols ride Harleys, sport leather jackets, and bang their heads on a steppe to blues riffs played on really cool-looking instruments. Today’s Vikings are “custodians of Norwegian traditional song” who describe lyrical themes in terms familiar to connoisseurs of buffet mysticism: “It’s basically a song that tells the story of a conversation between a man and his shadow. It kind of questions our modern Western ideas that knowledge and confirmation is something predominantly acquired externally instead of internally. The story is basically: A man is asking his shadow a question and gets no answer. Then the sun goes down and of course his shadow disappears—into, in this case, a mountain. And then the man starts shouting at the mountain and the shadow replies in echoes with his own words. So the answers are within.” Any Lululemon liberal with a COEXIST sticker on her Prius can get behind that message.
I don’t say this to mock or lament. I’m not young or jaded enough to entertain the notion that it might be a spiritual or cultural tonic to have bloodthirsty marauders occasionally pillaging the suburbs instead of touring behind their new releases and selling their merchandise. I just wonder, human nature being what it is, how long people will be content to play nicely within the confines of Fukuyama’s End of History theme park. Forget explosive ideas; never underestimate the destructive power of affluence mixed with boredom.