Friday, September 6, 2013

A Guided Tour of No Code: Mankind

Mankind is a tough transition from Present Tense, if for no other reason than the fact that Present Tense so nicely encapsulates what No Code is trying to do, and Mankind feels like a bit of an outlier (and not just because Stone is singing). So why have the songthere, or why track the album the way they d? Yyou could just as easily moved mankind and I’m open up and leave around the bend following Present Tense, which might feel a bit better ( though I’ve never tested this out).

One possibility, and the best reason I could come up with (if we’re going to try to do better than nothing) is that each of these songs represents a way to live your life after the personal journal, the growth and self-development, of the rest of the record, each song telling part of the story until Around the Bend ties it all together. 

One way to live in the present, to not take the world too seriously, is to disenchant it. It’s all fake, it’s all posturing, none of it is real, none of it has intrinsic meaning. If there is nothing at stake in the world you don’t have to care too much about it. You can live a self-referential life if you live in a self-referential world. 

The music reflects that. It’s a sarcastic, wry song, smiling at a joke that the uninitiated just do not get. Stone’s voice is perfect for that, since he always seems to come across as slightly removed from everyone else--like you are in possession of some secret the rest of the world that would blow people’s minds if they knew to look for it.

But there’s something unsettled about all this. Although the song chronicles how artificial our lives are, the singer keeps wondering why people don’t see it, or, if they do, why do they keep trying to pretend otherwise. It’s an important question (‘what’s got the whole world faking it’) and it needs an answer. If the answer is simply that we’re all sheep following the herd (we do it because everyone else is doing it) then we’ve essentially negated the entirety of the album, and Mankind is a bit too slight a track for that to be its intention ( Pearl Jam doesn’t really write/think like that anyway). A dismissive, cynical apathy gets us nowhere. It stops the journey too soon, when the point of the album is to make the journey easier. 

Instead people keep faking it because they want meaning. They need it. It is quite likely that all the surrounding bullshit stops us from finding it, that it gets harder to find an approach and a way to live (not Eddie’s most elegant line, but the sentiment is clear). It’s not that Mankind is artificial, superficial, full of shit. The problem is that Mankind is lost, a reminder, after the fact, of why the journey was necessary in the first place.

I'm Open
Around the Bend

No Code 
Riot Act 
Pearl Jam