BY LAURA JANE FAULDS (ILLUSTRATION BY JEN MAY)
By the time I hit the station the sun had set, and I'd listened to a lot of Clash songs, because the songs on The Clash are very short, and it's weird, it's weird the way certain songs have no choice but to mean something to you. You can try as hard as you want to fight it, decide that that's autonomy and go with it, but great art could care less. Great art sees so far past your being at a place in your life where you've decided you don't want to be moved by great art, you've irrationally decided that that somehow pollutes the potential greatness of your own art, and great art thinks you're acting like an insolent child. It has had it up to here with your misread of super-ego as being Id, and is now about to school you.
See, okay, I think we can all agree that the first two lines of Janie Jones by the Clash:
He's in love with rock and roll, whoa
He's in love with getting stoned, whoa
mean essentially the same thing as the first two lines of Cheat by the Clash:
I get violent when I'm fucked up
I get silent when I'm drugged up-
And that's the fun part of being an artist, and also the evil part. I could drown myself in those Janie Jones sentences until my ears bled, and they'll never mean anything more to me than "Punk rock is a thing that exists" and initially, "It isn't opulent enough," later, "I get really hyped up when I hear them at the gym," but Cheat, objectively if anything the inferior Clash song (vis a vis Janie Jones, an obvious classic)-
When I first heard it, I was moving through a turnstile, a full body-length glass turnstile, and I had, if anything, a full body-length glass turnstile of Clash-directed negative energy built up around me. And it's not like the Clash thirty years ago fucking gave a shit, they didn't care about my energy, but even so, they couldn't help it. They broke it very easily, which mostly my own fault, for building up my fortress out of glass of all materials. But now I think maybe I only made it that way because I hoped it would get broken.
There was a glass tube above the road, a tunnel from the mall to the upper level of the parking lot, and above it, on the side of the parking lot building, was a sign reading Yorkdale (the name of the mall) in hot white script evocative of the fanciest loser rich chick you could imagine signing her sassy lame signature and thinking "Gosh. I am everything in the world like Elizabeth Taylor."
I could not even begin to explain to myself how dumb I thought that sign was, and I'd been listening to Cheat over and over again for the entire duration of my subway ride- some subway cars, they feel like the 1980s. They hadn't bothered with changing the subways since I was a kid for the longest time, since the 1980s, but now they're changing them and in the advertising for the subway rebrand have started calling the subway The Rocket, as in Ride The Rocket (the slogan), and inasmuch as I do love riding the Rocket (it's a cool long quiet train which you can walk straight through from one end to the other- it's best to get a spot where the train turns corner and it bends; you yourself become a part of the bend), it bums me out. I like the Clashy old brown subways that feel like pictures of New York from punk books, with yellow air and burgundy carpet on the chairs.
I remember work from that day, I remember sitting in the window with Benjamin and making jokes about drugs, making jokes to our co-workers about how we were doing drugs in the window; it's so easy to make that joke at work and have it be funny. I remember asking Elise if she liked the way my bangs looked teased back like that and she said she did and I've worn my hair only twice in that style again in 2012 and when I quit that job I left them, I left them all hanging. I gave them my two weeks notice, and I never went back.
They have no idea where in the world I went, all these humans I used to stand under an awning and smoke with. I loved them all for being stupid humans, for being disgusting and annoying and terrible, it's so cute the way we learn by trial and error. All these weird dudes I've spent the night with, crazy girls I've done drugs with, they're your whole life for a night of it. And then you quit your job, feel nasty in the morning and leave while they're asleep, and they're gone. They're just another gone one, gone to go live in the gone place with all the other gone people, who are gone.
The gone place is everywhere, we all live in it, it's ours. You can decorate it however you want. You're you, you own the things you own, you do the things you do, and you make a thing, and then you make another thing, and in the overarching scheme of things, there's very little variation between the mood and quality of the first thing and the second thing, although you might like the newer thing better, because it's newer, and so it means you right now, a person you like better than you a month ago, who didn't know some things. Poor her. Or maybe you're scared that the thing you made a week ago is worse than the thing you made a month ago, because the thing from a month ago has aged very well and it means less to you, so you can see it with clearer eyes. I don't know if you can sleep or not but I certainly can't, and if I were going to live my life stupidly, it would be very easy for me to stay awake for the entire rest of my life, switching out my pillowcase for the one that makes my hair sweat less and wondering which of the two was truly better. Your super-ego is always going to be the one that's most charismatic of the three.
But the thing is, it's not up to you, and the answer will always be neither. And would you choose an objective good over a subjective best? I don't think I would, if it were a piece of art I really loved, but the fun part is- you don't have to! But the evil part is that someone's going to think something really excellent you made is bullshit, but, going back to fun again, a different thing you made will change the way they see the world forever! Evil: even having had that happen, the first will still mean nothing.
So if you're an artist, and you give a thing you made to a person, you don't have to worry about whether they'll like it or not, because if they don't, it's just their Janie Jones. Six songs later, they'll hear your Cheat and it'll change their life and they'll love you, they'll forgive you for all your prior meaninglessnesses, though someone else will feel the opposite, which is the most fun part of all:
If you're an artist, all you ever have to do is literally anything fucking thing you want.
Looking out at the world through my own eyes I looked down at myself, the only way you can ever see yourself (without a mirror): upside down, with your feet at the top. You go back into your head later on and picture yourself living that day and you picture it from the bottom up, as if you were another person.
Don't use the rules/ They're not for you/ they're for the fools/ And you're a fool/ if you don't know that/ so use the rules/ you stupid fools
was the lyric that made me think all these things. It was so easy, and so true, and there was no use in condemning myself for not having thought of it. I hadn't, and that was the truth, and I was going to have to be fine with it.
But there was still a little part of myself that had to tell the Clash I was me, that I make cool things too, so immediately my head put it into a poem, and I wanted to look at that poem, write it down on a piece of paper and stare at it. I wanted to fall asleep with my arm on the piece of paper so the ink would stain a mirror image of the words into my skin while I slept. They were true words and I believed them.
But after the words come guitars, and oh my God those guitars: one fast red shock in an otherwise pretty chilly book of songs: a bomb or firework calling immediately to mind the word solar and all the solar subdivisions, but mostly solar flares and solar energy. And it was like the words had never mattered and no words did; I could've spend the rest of my life caught in that moment, with those guitars and feeling something, and I had music again! I had the sound of sounds sounding so good, how good things sound and always will sound, but once they were over, I went back to the words, because words are my style/baby/thing and the sound that will ALWAYS sound the best to me is the sound of words: in particular, a set of words that once made it so I thought I'd never hear music the same way again.
Two Augusts ago, I sat alone in a Vietnamese restaurant, which used to have weather walls. I told so many people about those leather walls, which I don't even think were actually leather. I think they just reminded me of leather.
I used to go to that Vietnamese restaurant a lot, sit alone with my glass of overly grapey Riesling and a gorgeous plate of fat flat noodles in thin brown sauce, but then they fixed it up, so I stopped going. Now it has white walls, no steering wheels affixed to the maybe-leather walls, and an AQUARIUM.
I'm uncomfortable with aquariums. The most beautiful thing about the water is the water and if we're going to build tanks of water into our walls I think they should just be water. Fish should stay in the sea unless we eat them: they're ugly, and it's tragic to confine anything, even a stupid fish, to that small a space, and I don't like looking at them swim confusedly back and forth, as if they have any place else to go. And the smell of fish food is pervasive as fuck, fish food, what the fuck is that; I think the animals we keep as pets deserve to eat better food than a bunch of cheap crap from a tin that is only the word "food" with the name whichever animal it happens to be shoved in front of it. Honestly, if you want to spend your days looking at fish, there is a way better option than building an aquarium into the wall of your Vietnamese restaurant. Go live by the water.
I came there to read a book before work, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce, which I'd been reading since that morning, a copy that belonged to my father when he was younger than I was, which I stole from him on the same day I stole Cosmic Music, The Sounds of India, and Blonde on Blonde. That was a really good haul that day.
When I hold that book, that particular copy of that one book, there's an electric shock to it- I don't even have to look at one page, I just hold the book. And I used to think that's why I write, so that maybe in the future after I've died, if I'd have written just one book, if some girl in a hundred years from now could hold it in her hands and feel that feeling, if I could give that to just one person-
My brain always erases the most important details, because while I'm living them I'm really living them, not just writing them down in my head so fast I don't even notice the moment hasn't ended yet. I remember the grapey taste of that wine tasting like a grape cake and I remember walking out of the place and listening to Norwegian Wood to test it, to make sure that it was real and I really couldn't hear music the same way anymore, and it was true. It only sounded like a song.
So I can't remember, don't know and can't tell you what it felt like to read the sentence He wanted to cry quietly but not for himself: for the words, so beautiful and sad, like music for the first time. I only remember myself before the words and after the words, I know what they changed about me and how I changed when I realized, that night, that the best music could ever be is like words.
Two years and six months later I heard Cheat, and I don't remember what it felt like as I lived it but I remember that I knew it, that this would be the music I'd spend the rest of my life trying to get the words to be as beautiful and sad as.