Saturday, November 29, 2014

When A Carrot Is Just A Carrot: The Copyrights and the Redundancy of Hope

"Everything is over." - Teenage Bottlerocket, "Another Way"

At the beginning of "Grown Folks Business," on The Copyrights' split 7" with the Dopamines Songs About Fucking Up, Adam Fletcher sings:

"How many times can I write the same song / About my sick life and my shit job / I'm getting old and burned out / Putting the same words to the same sounds / You've gotta pick up the slack here / Cause I'm all out of ideas "

In pop punk circles, there's a common saying: "Pop Punk Is Dead". The days of Green Day and Blink on the radio are over. But the buck does not stop at pop punk. The Copyrights understand that in the 21st century you will never not sound like someone else. It's easy to sing about the oncoming apocalypse over the sound of thrash guitars or fucking authority with a double kick behind you; it's easy to sell records when you're singing about a fantasy and transporting somewhere else, saying that everything is going to shit or one day it's going to be better. The world-weariness of The Copyrights' lyrics is a perfect match for their heard-it-before pop punk guitars; both of them suggest that things might stay just the way that they are, and, further than that, that it's a mistake to think that things haven't always been this way. They play music you've heard before, not because they are not smart enough to be "avant-garde", but because they recognize the dishonesty and the redundancy of doing anything else. Music has ceased being "world-disclosing" in Habermasian terms, in no small part because we have disclosed the world plenty enough already. The problem is that, after every story has already been told, so many people are still trying to find a way out. Today, the extreme of utopianism on both the left and the right is just to hope or fear at all.

Fletcher echoes exactly this sentiment on "Holidays" when he sings:

"We all know much too well/There's no heaven, there's no hell/But we can dream/We can dream/That the calendar is full of holidays instead of numbers/Instead of work weeks/Instead of deadlines"

The Copyrights recognize that there's no transcendence on this world or the next. The utopia that they dream up isn't even the Marxist utopia of an unrealized freedom in solidarity. It's a negative statement; they just don't want to work. When everything speculative has been stripped away, the best we can do is celebrate every birthday at the bar. The holiday utopia is the best we can hope for exactly because it's a negative utopia. Things will be the same as they are now, just without all of the boring parts. We've exhausted every other hope that we had. It's all tied up and accounted for.

This isn't just about politics, it's also about personal aspiration. On "The World Is Such a Drag" Fletcher sings:

"Running after carrots on a stick / One day you'll finally catch up to it / And it tastes just like a carrot/Supposedly they help you see/But you don't wanna see that clearly/Better off in a world blurred slightly"

It's a familiar cycle. Whenever you get what you want, it's exactly what it was all along, and the thing that you wanted reveals itself as just a dream. Providing a twist on the beloved Louis CK bit "Everything is amazing, but no one is happy", "The World Is Such A Drag" suggests that nobody is happy because everything is amazing. If you get everything you ever wanted, you don't live happily ever after. You get miserable. You taste the carrot and realize that it's just a carrot. The rest of it is a pack of lies, and while you might need a lie to get you through the day, a lie won't save you.

What happens when you stop chasing the carrot? The other possibility is spelled out quite explicitly. On the record Dream Homes by Dear Landlord, which shares multiple band members with The Copyrights, the lyrics read:

 "We're both sort of right / I don't have much to sell / I'll die penniless, alone / I'll do what I like, you'll do what you know / That's just the way of things I suppose"

You can spend your life hoping that things will be better, or worry your whole life that things are going to be worse. You can chase the carrot. But Fletcher and his friends will still be drinking in the basement when you've hit your highest heights and lowest lows. The transition is from Kant's "What can I hope?" to "How can I run out the clock?" Beyond the apparent cynicism of this sort of thinking is a hungover-and-dead-sober humanism. It's a humanism that holds that we'll all be better off if we stop mistaking the lies we tell ourselves and one another for reality.

The chorus to "I Live In Hell" from Dream Homes goes:

"What does your dream home look like?/It'll take you years to even tell/And I'll be sleeping well/Here in Hell."