Sunday, June 5, 2011

Essay: Personal Reflections On Let The Blind Lead Those Who See But Cannot Feel

Once you reach a certain age and are unmarried, I'm willing to bet that, like me, you have that one person for whom you will eternally pine. They understand you, and more importantly, they accept and love you for who you are whereas no one else can or does. To paraphrase Department of Eagles, no one does it like them. Yet for any number of reasons, things between you both never work out. Perhaps they only see you as a friend. Maybe one or both of you are too fucked up to make things work. Or maybe it's a simple case of them having someone else and not needing you. Whatever it is, your friends and family tell you to stay away, that you'll only receive pain and torment, that you've been down this road before, etc. However, that simple sense of commonality and understanding is so potent a draw you would cut off an ear, Picasso-style, if it would make them love you (or love you again).

A girl, no, a woman I love very much fits in this category. I could never explain how I feel about her in any rational way. Moreover, it's a distinct possibility that I will never be with her in a traditional relationship sense, and we'll come in and out of each other's lives like ships passing in the night. We don't even live in the same State anymore. The point I'm getting at is that I didn't even understand how much Atlas Sound's Let The Blind Lead Those Who See But Cannot Feel meant to me until I introduced her to his music via Pitchfork.TV's mesmerizing live performance of his at a church for their Cemetery Gates series. I was simultaneously introducing her and re-introducing myself to this incredible music. We both became briefly obsessed with the performance, and by extension, his two albums. I never would or could have finally connected with this record if not for her, and I am eternally grateful to both the music and her for it.

To me, Bradford Cox's music in Deerhunter and Atlas Sound is completely tied up in the tension between nostalgia and the present, between accepting one's own weirdness and trying to fit into society, and between concrete emotions and a numbed, druggy indifference. Let The Blind... goes a step further by bringing in his own experiences, in particular his unrequited love for friend/Deerhunter member Locke Pundt and his troubled youth--parental divorce, drug use and abuse, and most importantly for me, his teenage surgeries and hospitalizations for Marfan's Syndrome.

Careful viewers of the Weekly Whiskey video series may have noticed a line-like scar running along the left side of my head. I won't bore you with the details as to its origins; suffice it to say that I had three or four surgeries by the time I was in kindergarten. Those experiences, along with all the feelings and thoughts a child has while facing such things, have shaped me as a person ever since. I'm willing to speculate that Cox would agree that it's not the physical scars I bear, or his emaciated, sickly appearance thanks to Marfan's, which really have the profound, lasting effect on us. Instead, it's all the associated mental and emotional baggage that comes from them and from the reactions of others.

Strange, then, that the first few times I listened to this record, it struck me as numb and detached. It still sometimes strikes me as the kind of music someone who was perpetually stoned (on weed and/or psychedelics and/or prescription meds for insomnia and anxiety) to the point of indifference would make in an attempt to reconnect with their feelings. This was all on the surface, though. Listen carefully to Let The Blind... and his other music in and out of Atlas Sound, and you'll find one of the most self-aware and emotionally connected musicians of our time. Just as Dinosaur Jr. rock harder than almost anyone yet often have nakedly-emotional/personal songs underneath all the blare and distortion, on this album Cox swaddles his feelings in seemingly cold/distant music. The more I listen to this record and the more I decipher the lyrics, though, the more warm and comforting it becomes. Just as the woman I spoke of earlier is one of the handful of people I've ever met who truly understands and accepts me, this is one of the few albums I feel a strong personal connection to. I don't mean this in the broad sense of "wow, I relate to Beatles songs", which play to many people in many vastly different situations. It's much more specific for me and this record. For example, though my own experience with 'sleeping til I threw up' wasn't drug related as on the song 'Ativan', the first time I heard that line goosebumps and tingling shot up my limbs and spine and the memory came roaring back.

What Let The Blind... represents to me is making something creative, positive, and therapeutic out of an abjectly terrible period of one's life. You can get so hung up on your own perceived issues and memories that you don't attempt to do anything about them, to make peace with them and yourself. I'm sure that making music hasn't "cured" Cox, but if it has helped him half as much as Let The Blind... and other albums have helped me, and writing in general has also helped me, perhaps a cure isn't the answer. He and I don't need to force ourselves to become normal people; we have to learn to express ourselves and be OK with who/what we are.

This is an album of purging personal demons, of displaying the most vulnerable and pained memories and pieces of one's self to the world. Most important of all, it's about being unafraid to do so anymore. I would never and could never review this music in any traditional sense because, in some other lifetime and series of events, I might've made this album.

NOTE: I apologize if it seems like I'm attempting to parallel myself and my life to Bradford Cox too much. I don't know him at all except through his music, interviews, and random blog posts I've read. I'm making a lot of assumptions in this essay and I acknowledge that. I'm sure my experiences were not much like his at all, and his were likely far worse, so take it all with a grain of salt.

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