I stayed up late last night.
That’s been a recurring theme over these last few months. It’s an easy habit to slip into at the moment, seeing as there’s nowhere to go, nobody to see, and little to do each day. As contact with the outside world falls further into memory, other notions of regularity start to go with it – chiefly time and our usual reliance on human interaction. Initially, going from spending every day around my friends to seeing only my mom and my cats was a startling change, but now it just feels startlingly… normal. Those other people didn’t cease to exist, but it’s not unusual now for me to check my texts and realize I haven’t talked to someone in two weeks, although it may only have felt like two days. I get so absorbed in my own little quarantine bubble, and everything else just settles into a mess of otherness, still there but thoroughly distinct from my life at the moment. So instead of keeping up with the people I care about as much as I should be, I’ve been staying up late.
In my latest struggle against the night’s pull, I read Rory Gibb’s piece for The Record ranking every Conor Oberst release. (Listicles, now and forever, are the bane of my sleep schedule.) While I don’t agree with every placement on the list (People’s Key over Digital Ash? Really?), I respect the willingness and ability to switch perspectives on an artist that the author clearly has a significant personal attachment to in order to critically evaluate their catalogue of work.
The part of Rory’s piece that got me thinking the most, however, was his second-place ranking of Bright Eyes’ Fevers and Mirrors, otherwise known as Oberst’s “self-indulgent” opus for angry, depressed, and disaffected twenty-year-olds. None of these are indictments, by the way–it’s a brilliant record that perfectly encapsulates the artist’s mindset at the time, dark as it may be. But what interests me most about Fevers is Oberst’s complete and utter fearlessness in his writing. The frequent mentions of self-pity, suicide, obsession, and anger make one wonder if at any point during the writing process he took a step back to consider just what it was he was about to put out into the world.
As a musician myself, I spend a lot of time thinking about songwriting, and how best to utilize it as a vehicle for personal expression. How much of myself do I put into a song? How much do I shroud in metaphor, and at what point does it cease to be effective? I write a lot about people I know, yet I live in constant fear of one of them realizing it. Putting music out is a stressful process, even knowing that only the twenty-two people who listen to me on Spotify are ever going to hear anything I write. Which is why I’m continuously in awe of the fact that something like Fevers exists in the world for millions of people to absorb.
In the three-plus months since I came home from St Andrews, I’ve spent a lot of my time listening to, writing, and recording music. It’s the one thing that’s kept me from sitting around watching YouTube seven days a week instead of the perfectly reasonable five I’m working with now. And during this period of relative isolation from all but a very small portion of my friends and family, I’ve been thinking even more about how I deliver myself in my songs. Music has always been how I best express myself, but there’s a line to be drawn between sentiments best expressed in song and in person. To quote Jeff Rosenstock from his recent album NO DREAM, “Rip your friends off / Write a new song / Call it ‘Shame’ and claim its indelible truths.” Rosenstock knows where that line lies, and he admits that he’s crossed it before. More than ever I’ve found myself using this current situation as an excuse to avoid interaction and confrontation, instead opting to write my problems into music in the futile hope that they’ll stay there and leave me alone. Oberst did it, and then he whispered, warbled, and yelped it all out for the world to hear. The product was fantastic, but the ends don’t necessarily justify the means.
I suppose what I’m saying is, talk to people. Being stuck inside by law facilitates avoiding people: those we love, those we hate, and everyone in between. It’s easy to let personal responsibilities and obligations slip when there’s always a ready excuse, but eventually the responsibilities disappear, and the people go with them. Take time for yourself, and write angsty ballads bemoaning the challenges of life, love, and other inspirations if you have to, but don’t forget about the outside world. It’ll return someday. Make sure there’s something to go back to.