Thursday, January 20, 2011

Guided Tour of Vitalogy: Not For You

by stip


The slow burn of Not For You’s riff puts the listener in mind of lit powder keg right before the explosion—the song traces the deceptive calm and the mild crackling of the spark working its way up the fuse. There is an undercurrent of barely contained rage running through the entire song, released during the chorus but quickly bottled back up during the verses, and ultimately fizzling out during the outro. There is a temporary relief found in catharsis, but there is not resolution. But resolution is not necessarily what the song searches for either. The reference to the myth of Sisyphus (a greek myth about a guy who is punished in Hades by having to roll a rock up a hill only to have it fall back down when it reaches the top) is telling here. He is almost certainly referring to the Albert Camus essay that interprets the myth. Camus argues that the only proper orientation to the absurdity of life is to revolt against it. Even if the revolt can never be successful, it is the act of revolting, of rejecting absurdity, that gives life meaning. And Not For You is directed in part against the people who forgot that, who abandon their youthful ideals once they become difficult—once the payoff is not immediately forthcoming.

Not For You continues with the sacredness of music theme begun in STBC, in particular what it means to the young—the way in which music helps us realize that regardless of how big and impersonal the world may get, there are others who have experienced what we’ve experienced, and we find solidarity in the music we share. In particular music is supposed to be the voice of optimism and hope, representing a purer vision of a world with more justice than the one we live in.

This, at the very least, is the importance with which Eddie has invested music, and is why the ‘corruption’ of music, the commodification of art and artist, is so damning. Rather than a source of authenticity and transcendence, it becomes something to be exploited—to put songs about rebellion and change into the service of selling products, to turn music away from community and solidarity and towards trends and fads. Music moves away from life and towards, if not death, then a type of marketed unlife. It rejects the position of revolt and moves towards an empty acceptance.

This plays itself out throughout the verses. The warning to youth not to lose the restless energy and optimism that is the hallmark of what is best in the young. The plea to the old to not forget where they came from and what they left behind. Sandwiched in between are the shots at fame (the chanting in the bridge, the ‘small my table’ lyrics). Much of that is obviously reflecting the personal claustrophobia Eddie was feeling at this time, the burden of being an icon, the ‘voice of a generation.’ But this should not be understood solely as an anti-fame rant. At its root is the way in which the position he has is unearned, a fabrication of the media and the culture industry. Eddie is a symbol, not a human being, and the deeper solidarity he envisions calls for a more intimate relationship than this—knowledge of one another as human beings, not as things. *

And so Not For You is an accusation—a shot targeted directly at the people who not only forgot what music once meant to them, but forget what it meant to have hope not only in some kind of transcendence, but some kind of immediate transformation of this world. It accuses them of surrender, acceptance, and in many cases collaboration. Not only have they forgotten this feeling, they now actively work to undermine the possibilities of realizing it. They pervert the shared vocabulary of revolution, change, and meaning. And this is who the music is not for. It is not for the people who look to music for style, rather than substance. It is not for people who look to music for money, rather than meaning. It is not for people who accept the world the way it is, rather than working to transform it. If you are one of those people then this is not for you.  

*as a footnote of sorts, Eddie may just be wrong on this. Any kind of movement, even one as abstractly formulated as the one he is striving for, requires its symbols, and he clearly had a similar symbolic relationship with his musical heroes (see Pry, To). Reacting to people cheering you as a disposable marker of what is currently popular is one thing, but it is never clear on Vitalogy whether or not Eddie is willing to assume the mantle of leadership for the people willing to look deeper. This is something he makes his peace with on the later records, but not here.