Monday, June 11, 2012

"It's A Bit Complicated" - On Art Brut And Aging

I have a depressingly bad memory when it comes to moments in my life that I really should be able to recall. Ask me about a meaningless baseball game from over a decade ago there’s a good chance I can give you the particular. However when I try to think back to the night of my first kiss or what I was thinking the first time I ever went to a funeral, I could only give you the broadest generalities. But for some reason, this night I remember well.

It was the spring of my senior year of college, during that time when everyone's busting their asses trying to fulfill their remaining academic responsibilities without embarrassing themselves but also striving to exert the minimum effort possible. I'd just completed and emailed the semester's final paper and decided to run to the liquor store. I had purchased cheap, student affairs-funded tickets to that night’s Brewers game and there was nothing that I wanted to do more than celebrate with a thermos full of coke and embarrassingly cheap vodka on the complimentary bus ride over. So, with some twenty minutes to go before the bust left, I sprinted out of my dorm towards sweet lady liquor.

On my brief trip across the state line from Beloit, Wisconsin to South Beloit, Illinois, I decided to put on a new album. I don't remember why I'd downloaded it or what made me play, I just knew that I'd heard the name Art Brut more than once and I felt like listening to something new. The first song was called "Blame It On The Trains" and, as I listened to it, I was confused at first, then incredibly excited. The lyrics had nothing to do with rail transport, but I connected with them immediately and viscerally. (I later realized that all the songs were mislabeled on my copy, which had been pirated from my dorm’s shared iTunes - I would eventually have to painstakingly Google the lyrics from each song to match the titles, but it didn't matter.) The song I'd heard was actually "Pump Up The Volume" and all it took was about one verse to win my heart.

It wasn't the ridiculously charming "oh, oh, oh"'s that open the song or the kicking punk rock backing track that first hit me - it was the words. Eddie Argos was singing about making out with a girl and stopping halfway through to turn up a song he's listening to. I remember looking around the empty car with a stupid grin and laughing as, if searching for confirmation at what I was hearing - I thought I was the only one who'd ever done that!

In fact, Eddie Argos had a frighteningly large number of things in common, starting with the fact that we were both huge music geeks. No, check that, we were both huge music snobs. Who else would choose the song over the girl (or at least have trouble making the decision)? But it went beyond that - he used his songs to make fun of U2 and honestly wonder “how can you sleep at night when nobody likes therecords you like?” As someone who’s often gotten flack for moping at a party because I don't approve of the shitty but danceable pop being played, I instantly recognized him as a fellow obsessive who also shared a bit of a problem adjusting to the adult world of boundaries and compromises.

As I listened to more songs on that initial drive (after downing a thermos of high fructose corn syrup and some of Kentucky's most economical vodka) I became increasingly taken with this misanthropically immature pied-piper of slacking, ready to lead me away from the path of responsibility and sure-boredom that post-college threatened to saddle me with. Art Brut promised freedom and fun, adventure and glorious irresponsibility that stretched into adulthood – they were a lifeline. Argos’ songs were all about living for today (and by today I mean tonight) and that was what I wanted at the time. I soaked his tales of spending adulthood fretting over mixtapes, avoiding responsibility and living happily as a carefree pauper. Every night he seemed to be either drinking or meeting a girl (or both) and he managed to do this despite being a massive geek with just as little self-confidence in his romantic offerings as I had. And, to top it off, he made it all seem like the natural, self-evidently most rewarding way to live life.

Argos’ English sense of humor ensured that even his most juvenile moments were put across with a po-faced charm that couldn’t be denied. His performances were a brilliant mix of singer-songwriter wit and razor-sharp punk execution. He sang about drinking and hangovers, male sexual insecurities and teenage neurosis that never go away. He was were big-hearted enough to write a love song to his first girlfriend and uncool enough to admit that he’d only just discovered the Replacements (an admission made all the more endearing given that I’d gone through the EXACT thing with that band a year before). In his world you could live without electricity, spend your time wrapped up in underlooked bands, drink to excess every night, show up late to work, get women with no self-confidence and generally live like a college student in the adult world. I slowly came to realize that this was something of a fool’s paradise, but oh what a glorious one it is to live in, if only for so long. Who doesn’t want to be able to say,  “I’m ignoring all my grown-up problems because I’ve got no idea how to solve them”?
Art Brut’s most recent album, last year’s Brilliant! Tragic!, was an ever-so-slight nod of the head towards maturity. Sure, he still sings about playing soccer (that’s right, I’m American, it’s soccer) in grade school, loves Axel Rose and Facebook stalks his exes but he’s growing up nonetheless. There’s tempo changes. And effects pedals. There’s even a slow jam for theladies and a song about settling down, which is unprecedented territory for the band. It’s good to see signs like this because, in my years since college, I’ve realized that while we all sow some wild oats, no one can live a life of rock debauchery (or at least immaturity) without becoming an unlikable and slightly sad adult. Everyone needs to earn money and even if you have a dream job that means eventually getting up and doing a bunch of stuff you don’t like.

But it’s all still there. Whenever I need to feel rebellious or youthful or just plain stupid (and let’s not kid ourselves, every once in a while everyone feels a need to do something stupid just for the sake of doing something stupid), those first three Art Brut albums. I remember playing a friend “Good Weekend” after he started seeing his current girlfriend and it surely 
resonated, when force-fed corporate pop at some wedding or other event, “Art Brut Vs. Satan” still provides relief and God help me if don’t still have a few days where the “bring me coffee” chorus from “Alcoholics Unanimous” sounds just heavenly.

And no matter how old I get, I can’t imagine some moments dulling for me. There’s one line that’s stuck with me ever since I first heard it that May night in 2009 hurtling across the Wisconsin highways. “Every day is just like starting over,we try so hard but we keep on falling over.”

Amen, brother.

Good Weekend  Buy Bang Bang Rock N' Roll
Post Soothing Out  Buy It's A Bit Complicated
Demons Out!  Buy Art Brut Vs. Satan
Sealand  Buy Brilliant! Tragic!

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