by Alexa Weinstein on January 27, 2012
Sorry it has taken me 40 years to write back to you. Also, sorry for all the hate you have gotten from me over the years. It occurs to me now that assholes and bad music are not actually your fault. If you can find it in your heart to forgive me, I will be truly thankful.
I know this is kind of presumptuous, or at least premature, but yesterday morning I became convinced that you had already forgiven me everything. I had just dropped my baby girl off at preschool and was on my way to the pool to swim before starting to work on a thing I had to edit. It was like 8:30 in the freaking morning, yet I was in a great mood and full of energy. I turned to my local indie radio station, and they were playing something I would generally consider to be good music—it was a Bon Iver kind of song, which may or may not have been Bon Iver—and I found myself yelling at it to shut up and turning to Wild 107. I just felt, like, 100% done with sadness and heartbreak and tragedy and loss and serious thought and all things even remotely tinged with emo. DOWN WITH WHINERS! UP WITH BEATS!
And of course, the moment I switched stations, there you were. And I realized that you are always there, right there, just waiting for us to come back. You have always been there for me, whenever I have been able to rise up on a wave of anything and visit the bright realm where you live. You never judged me for riding up on liquor and drugs, or for falling in love with the wrong person, or for fucking up my own life. You have always been happy to see me. And that’s why I believe—no, fuck it, I know—that I am already forgiven. You are not in the business of blaming at all. You never even need to forgive. I hope I can learn to be more like you.
In truth, I have always found your essential nature to be a puzzle. You should be simple, but you confuse me. The definition of pop music is simply that it is popular, right? A lot of people like it at once. It could be anything: dance music, rock, R&B, show tunes, hip hop, punk rock, country. So there shouldn’t be any difference between poppiness and popularity. But there is. You are, undeniably, a musical quality, somehow able to manifest yourself in a thousand different forms within the strictures of whichever genre you choose to visit. How do you do that? You are like pornography; the difference between you and non-poppiness is hard to define, but we know it when we hear it. What, then, are you? Exactly?
I believe you exist in a complex relationship to the following entities:
the promise of romance
the fantasy of fame & riches
the dream of happiness
love in all its forms
My heart tells me you are a kind of living being who grows up between all of these things, taking root, taking shape in the air, not a diagrammable musical element but a phenomenon, an ineffable emanation, an event.
That is as close as I can get. You don’t lend yourself well to description. I respect you much more than I ever thought I did. And I see now that, in hating on you, I was saying much more about myself than about music. What I realized yesterday morning was that you have a way of cutting through all my bullshit and showing me the truth about my current relationship to happiness.
For most of my life, what would happen is that I would ride up to you on a wave of something—a crush, or vodka, or the sun coming out all of a sudden—and even as I loved your brightness and danced around on the wave and everything, I would also simultaneously look down for a second and catch a glimpse of the actual depth of my unhappiness below. It staggered me. I began to wobble and shake on my board. And when the wave I was riding came back down, the fear and sadness of what I had seen would take the bearable, familiar form of negative skepticism. I would return to my usual mode of hating on you, and hating on all the people who listen to you while doing their stupid workouts or shopping for their robot-slave clothes or saying idiotic things as they drunkenly hit on each other. Looking down on you and on them made me feel slightly better about looking down on my own unhappiness. For the record, I’m not proud of this. It’s just how I got by.
But lately, what’s been happening is that you’ve been sneaking up on me. I must be riding up to you on a wave, but it’s a really long, slow, rolling one, so I don’t realize I’m on it. I gradually swell up into your realm, and my eyes have time to adjust to the brightness in stages. So it just kind of feels like normal life. A regular day. But then there you are on the radio, and there I am in my body, and suddenly I realize I am way high up and the wave is so solid below me that my board is like a fucking sidewalk.
And when I look down, in place of that scary plunge of my unhappiness, what I see instead is how hard I fight against feeling this way, how much I resist it, how hard it is for me to believe and accept. I hear the nasty ghost who says I am becoming a traitor to my people—the misanthropes, the heartbroken, the jaded, the lost, the loners, the artists, the people who like actual good music instead of pop cheese—and a traitor to my former self. I am turning my back on all that pain and realness and art. I have somehow become a boring sellout weirdo mom-robot pod person. It is not possible for the actual, interesting, cool me to feel this way about swimming laps at this time of the morning, or to be wearing this size jeans. Barf! On! This! Lady! RUN BACK TO THE DARKNESS.
And meanwhile, it is you, poppiness—it is only because I hear you and you show me the wild wave I am already on that I am able to also hear the shadow voice down inside it. And that voice is how I know this is real. This is it. I think I am actually kind of happy. It’s 8:30 in the morning on a regular day, and this song sounds so much like the best thing I’ve ever heard that I have to sit in the car and dance it out to the end even though I’m parked and I should go in. Even though I’ve never heard this song before in a conscious way and it might not be good at all and I’m not even sure I know what a good song is anymore. I don’t know how much of the goodness belongs to the song, and how much belongs to you, my old, rad friend, and how much belongs to me. But I know you. And I love you. And I am so deeply glad to see you again.