Exciting Times

I've been listening to a lot of Sublime lately. Sublime sold 6 million albums shortly after their frontman and principle songwriter, Brad Nowell, overdosed on heroin. The death prompted many people at the time to wonder what might have been, since Nowell was a gifted singer and lyricist, an excellent guitar player, and a great songwriter. Sublime was a really good band.

Listening to their albums, I have become absolutely engrossed in the artistic world created by these recordings. Sublime's use of recorded speeches and clips from movies, fused with their deft hip hop sampling techniques and punk and reggae rock served to make their albums feel more like movies than like a mere sequence of songs. Each album is a little treat, from beginning to end; we step into Sublime's world for an hour or so, we enjoy ourselves, and then we wave goodbye. It is an extremely good use of the album platform, showing us how albums can be works of art unto themselves, over and above the songs themselves.

In that context, it is interesting to note the lyrical subject matter of Sublime's work. A lot of their songs are autobiographical. "I don't cry when my dog runs away" is not just a chirpy mantra; Nowell's dog really did run away. He really did have a dalmation. He really did get high. He really did pawn all his gear. I don't know how much of Sublime's lyrics are fictitious, but I do know that a lot of it comprises stories of their lives on the southern California punk/ska scene. It's gritty, and it's real: crime, drugs, sex, poverty, addiction, and lots of music.

What strikes me about this, however, is that when someone actually lives this kind of a life, it is not nearly so glamorous or exciting as it sounds when Sublime sings about it. When you're dog runs away, it's not an adventure; it's just a lot of feeling bad and being unable to do anything about it, and maybe hanging some posters around the neighborhood. Music is awesome and performing is great fun, but there is nothing about performing music that is really worth telling stories about. You get up on stage, you perform the music, you exit. And I do not suppose I need to go into detail about how utterly boring the life of a drug addict is. The only exciting thing a drug addict experiences is the high, and by the time addiction really sinks in, the high isn't even worth much anymore. It's more like misery-avoidance, especially when it comes to heroin.

In short, Nowell lived a life that was not exciting, but he wrote songs as if it were the most exciting thing that ever happened. That is a wonderful skill, and more to the point, it is a wonderful attitude with which to approach your own life.

I once found myself drinking at a bar in Edmonton, Alberta. A large, jovial man approached me and struck up a conversation. He was an interesting character, from Norway, who had some bombastic ideas, or perhaps it was the liquor talking. Either way, we entertained each other for hours over many beers, and then parted ways.

At one point during our conversation, he naturally asked me what I did for a living. At the time, I was a bank teller. I told him this, and he asked what that meant, so I explained how bank tellers in credit processing centers in Canada in the early 2000s stamped, counted, and sorted transaction receipts. (This kind of job probably doesn't exist anymore -- thanks, technology!) It was a dumb job and not particularly interesting to explain to gregarious drunken strangers, but the man took it all in. Then, he said, "You shouldn't say it that way. You should put it like this..." He then proceeded to describe my own job back to me, using much more exciting language, and making it sound like truly interesting work.

His point was simply this: No matter what dumb, boring thing you have to do in life, make it seem amazing.

Brad Nowell and this Norwegian stranger I met had a similar approach to their own existence. Whatever it was they were doing, they wanted it to be exciting, even if it was just sorting transaction receipts or lying around in a drug-addled stupor in a shitty apartment while the dog runs away. Obviously, I don't recommend getting addicted to heroin. The lesson to take from this is that the difference between your life and a more amazing, adventurous life is often not in what you do, but how you tell the story to yourself. You might live a pretty mundane life; but you might also live a pretty exciting life and just not realize it.

I think about this a bit when I'm running. From my perspective, a 6-mile run around one of my usual loops is a pretty mundane way to pass the time. I can't hardly even get excited about it anymore. It's just part of my day, no different than pulling on a pair of pants. But what would an onlooker see? He'd see a guy in a bandana and a fancy pair of sunglasses coolly striding down a scenic river path with the Fort Worth City skyline as a backdrop. It's practically a postcard, if I could only see it from that onlooker's point of view.

This is really nothing more than finding meaning in your life. If you see your life as a bunch of boring routines, or as an unremarkable thing not worth talking about, then you will probably tend to live your life that way, too. If you instead frame your life as a series of exciting adventures, it's possible to grow more enamored with what you're doing.

Kiss your wife when she comes home. It could be just a kiss to say hello. It could also be an integral part of your epic love story. Make your usual breakfast in the morning. It could be just an almost automatic process of pouring cereal and milk into a bowl. It could also be an indelible part of your idiom:

This is especially important for children, because children haven't been alive very long and haven't yet reached the point where absolutely everything is potentially mundane and boring. Fostering in them a sense of story-telling in their daily lives could potentially help them construct a more satisfying personal narrative. But you'll never instill that in a child until you know how to instill it in yourself.

No comments:

Post a Comment