Yeah, it’s been a few weeks. I’m aware. But, in my defense, I’ve been busy.
The last time I updated, I was in New Jersey. Since then, I’ve hit New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, DC, Virginia, and, finally, North Carolina. I’ve been spending the last two weeks gradually moving in – painting my walls, securing a desk and a dresser, trying to figure out where to hang pictures, looking for a job (incidentally, anyone who knows anyone in the Chapel Hill, NC area that wants to hire me should let me know), and trying to finish a few songs that I’ve gotten started.
One of those songs, actually, is about this trip. The first line came to me somewhere on the New York Thruway, along the lines of “I knocked six states back/through ’em faster than a cold six-pack,” but the song’s evolved a bit since then. I’ve found that they always do. My new favorite bit is the last half of the chorus: “It’s the highway, the freeway, the byway, the me way, and your way goes away, I can’t think what to say.” I’ve always loved clever plays on words like that.
Clever wordplay is a distinctive feature among a lot of my favorite bands, and I’ve known it for a while. A singer I’ve mentioned before, Ellis Paul, is reportedly the leader of the Boston folk movement, a songwriting style where poetic, smoothly flowing lyrics couple with good music. There’s no denying that these lyrics are one of the main reasons I love listening to him. They’re certainly the main reason that I taught his songs to my students. But he’s not the only artist whose lyrics I find spectacular. Antje Duvekot is another artist whose lyrics are quietly beautiful. In more mainstream areas, listening to English versions of Nidji’s songs leave me with respect for…well, whoever’s translating them, at least. The Arrogant Worms, a comedy band, tend to produce incredibly clever songs. Nickel Creek’s music plucks the heartstrings, but the lyrics are beautifully crafted to match the bluegrass-inspired melodies. Ben Folds has a mix of beautiful lyrics and plain-spoken clever songs. I pay attention to these things, and I often feel I’ve benefited immensely from their songs.
At the top of my list for years, however, has been the Barenaked Ladies. One of the first big concerts I went to see, and certainly the first one I bothered to pay for, BNL has been an inspiration for years. Throughout college, a running joke was that I could come up with a BNL quote to suit any occasion. While I wasn’t as big of a fan of their Christmas album, and I never really got around to the children’s album, the rest of their work was sufficient to quench my thirst for their particular brand of music.
And today, I meander through the pages of some of the bands I enjoy, and I happen to notice that Steven Page, one of the lead singers and co-founders of the band, has dropped out of the band – had dropped out of the band in February. It was, to say the least, a shock. A consequence of no longer being plugged in – during my college days, I’d found out within hours that Steven Page had been arrested on cocaine charges, whereas now, I found out major news about one of my favorite bands five months later.
It’s just a shock to realize how much I’d been missing, once I stopped constantly being connected and had the opportunity to only check bare essentials once every few days. News starts getting ignored, culture passes you by. I listened to the radio upon getting out of the airport, and was astonished that I didn’t recognize the songs. Not only didn’t I recognize them, but I thought they were worse than what I’d left. Clearly, I’ve got some catching up to do.
It’s not only music, of course. Movies, I’ve kept up with to an extent, thanks to the pirate racks, but I’m far behind on music, world politics, celebrity pop culture – the very things that make up American culture. I can’t say I like all of them, but they exist, and they were a part of what I was promoting last year, if unconsciously. I can’t just say I was a cultural ambassador for the things that I like about this country – I was, like it or not, selling the entire package.
This hasn’t changed just because I’m back in the states. I found out about the most recent burst of popular culture news, the death of Michael Jackson, through word-of-mouth rather than finding it out on the news. I’d happened by a friend’s apartment, and her landlord came to tell us. It came as a shock that I’m still unplugged, still re-integrating myself into the system.
It becomes a question, then. How much do I want to reintegrate? How do I relate my life pre- and post-Indonesia? These are questions I’ve got to contemplate, especially now that I’ve got a room to myself with internet and a nice, shiny, new desktop computer with a ton of hard drive space for me to fill with more bits of pop culture.