Tuesday, July 17, 2012

"Friday" and the Absurd Hero: Reflections on Leaving Eugene

Fashion and misunderstanding have condemned me to be labeled insincere in my love for Rebecca Black's "Friday." I think with some reason that she is the Samuel Beckett of our day: laugh out loud (L-O-L) funny yet shot through with the futility and hopelessness of our labor.

If one believes Pretend Bob Dylan from YouTube, Miss Black has put a cuttingly upbeat twist on a song that was originally sung with the resignation and melancholy of a man who lives for the weekend but finds "partyin'" to have an emptiness all its own. According to another tradition, however, her mom just splashed out some big money to make a vanity recording of a vapid pop song. Who can see a contradiction here? Opinions differ as to the reasons why artistic trends have led us into such a postmodern enigma of layered ironicality. To begin with, Bob Dylan is accused of a certain levity with regard to the greats of American music. He stole their 45s. Robert Zimmerman, the boy who had been but is no more, had been carried off by records from Folkways and Sun and a fantasy of being Woody Guthrie. His father didn't much notice and didn't complain to no one. The folkies of New York, who knew of the abduction, subduction, and transportation of the boy who was, didn't complain either. History also tells us he had disturbed the acoustic conventions when "Woody" was gone. The boring hipsters could not endure the strange new tones. They dispatched the god of war at first, but then decided to go to a different concert already... geez.

It is said that Dylan, having had too many amphetamines (and too many admirers), wanted to test his fans' love. He ordered up a set of Gordon Lightfoot and Paul Simon covers. He came to to find even fewer boring hipsters hassling him at his house. That was cool, I guess, but one has to have one's bowl and one's cereal. And when he went drivin' down the highway, he loved crusin' so fast. A decree of gravity was necessary. He couldn't control his motorcycle too well, snatching him from the rat race, leading him forcibly back to his house, where The Band were ready for him.

You can't yet have guessed that Pretend Bob Dylan from YouTube is the absurd hero. He is, and he is little more Pretend than "the real" Bob Dylan, who is a character in the fantasy play of a man of the same name. His scorn of lookin' forward to the weekend, his hatred of fun, fun, fun, fun, and his passion for... nothin' won him the penalty of consciousness of the repetition and vacuity of his own life. That is the price that must be paid for waking up in the morning. Nothing is told us about Dylan in his domestic setting. Myths are made for the imagination; one imagines he gotta go downstairs and struggle with the complexity and vanity of the front seat / back seat conundrum. One imagines this hundreds of times over; one sees the face screwed up, the cheek tight against the 'friend' by his right, the shoulder bracing the schoolbus window, the foot placed firmly in his mouth -- "why did I invite those guys over for partyin'? This can only end in the sad farce of havin' a ball today." At the very end of the work week measured by cold, heartless timekeeping machines, the purpose is achieved. Then Dylan watches 'friends' rush down in a few moments toward the baser aspects of their nature whence he will have to brave false smiles and the morning's hangover to push onward to Friday again. He goes back down to the TPS reports.

It is during that partyin' interlude that Dylan interests me. A face that pretends to be so excited is already so excited itself! But it is just a face. I see Dylan going back down with a heavy but measured step through the sea of partygoers of which he will never know the end. Those hours are as much his suffering as his 9 to 5. For this reason, they are the hours of his consciousness. At each of those moments when he does those allegedly fun things and finds them wanting, he is superior to his fate. He is stronger than his rock & roll.

If this reality is tragic, that is because its hero is out of amphetamines. Where would his torture be, indeed, if he had enough uppers to overlook the boring nature of his party guests? The average worker of today also lives for the weekend, and his fate is no less absurd. But it is tragic only at the rare moments of sobriety when one's party experience becomes conscious. Dylan knows the whole extent of his condition: this is what he thinks of on Friday. The 'excitement' that was to constitute his torture at the same time crowns his victory. There is no hipster that cannot be surmounted by scorn.

If partyin', partyin', yeah! is sometimes performed in sorrow, it can also take place in triumph. When the call to be so excited becomes too insistent, it happens that melancholy arises in man's heart: this is Friday's victory, this is Friday itself. The boundless futility is too heavy to bear. But crushing truths perish from being WASTED! Thus, the graffiti artists of Eugene obey fate without knowing it: "WE LIKE TO CRUNCH YOU!" But from the moment he knows, his crunching-related tragedy begins. Yet at the same moment, blind and desperate, he realizes the only bond linking him to the world is a crazy one night stand. Then a tremendous remark rings out: "LTD can lick my sweaty, shaven nutsack! Go Ducks!" The graffiti artist, like the sweaty nutsack guy, thus gives the recipe for the absurd victory. Brain damage confirms modern heroism.

One does not discover Friday without being tempted to write a manual for Christianity. "You either got faith or you got unbelief -- 'cause there ain't no neutral ground!" There is but one world, however. The work week and the weekend are two sons of the same earth. It would be a mistake to say that partyin' necessarily springs from Friday. It happens as well that Friday springs from partyin'. "I don't want this weekend to end," says Dylan, and that remark is sacred. It makes fate a human matter, which must be settled by having a ball today.

The absurd man says "we so excited" and that makes all the difference. Clearly he not so excited, yet he knows himself to be the master of his days.

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