I have heard that obsessions are not healthy. I have heard that things come in phases, and I have heard that I listen to the same songs over and over to a sickening degree. I have heard that the National are too boring, too melodramatic, too monotone, too brooding, too liberal, too too much… anything.
I have the answer. They are.
When I dove headfirst into the National’s catalog, it became the definition of my life. It became the visceral, the surface of my being. Matt Berninger’s ruminating and sorrowful lyrics were not just fairy tale lands that people use to modify their emotional denominator… they were real-time headlines of my time, cleverly sewn into the fabric of my life.
I detest the fan boy image that typically follows a preoccupation of this degree. Many people will wear the shirt, the cologne, the hat, and eat the breakfast cereal… they will stay up late watching random videos or dig and dig for leaks of new material or the random cover or the ONE time they played that ONE song at SOME place. I am not like that. I don’t crone over the National’s every move. I follow them on Instagram; it’s true, and I have even liked one of their pictures. (Little effort was required on my part; I simply clicked my mouse twice.)
I am no fan boy. I am obsessed. Again, it is because they report the news of my life.
Technically, the band is hardly matched. And for those people with the brooding, monotone, melancholy argument… you can surely just fuck straight off because Matt is an absolutely pitch perfect baritone. When John Lennon accused Paul McCartney of only singing songs about ‘silly love’; Paul aptly responded by selling over another million 7” singles of the song: Silly Love Songs. You can just state that, “He’s not singing to you,” and move on as opposed to saying a musically retarded statement. You probably listen to poor music (aka Nickleback) and should just (again) fuck off. We won’t even get into their heady collaborations with some of the best musicians in the world (Sufjan Stevens, Justin Vernon, Annie Clark, etc.), but the Desner brothers (they’re the guitarists folks!) are impeccable in their song structure and composition. They are truly rock music masters. The Devendorf brothers are equally as good, and there could be made a strong argument that Bryan Devendorf is one of the preeminent drummers of our age.
I am no fan boy. They are a good band.
And again, it’s because they report the news of my life.
When he croons, “I’m trying, but I’ve gone through the glass again,” I recall the time when I went through the front bay window in my house on a drunken night. Helped ever-so-graciously by my friend Brandon.
Or, “I gave my heart to the Army, the only sentimental thing I could think of…” is a perfect explanation of the reason I joined the military. Which is because my brother did… sentimental solidarity.
“Brother, I wish you were home, just tell me you’re not alone. Call me back; I’m on a plane. I think I’m somewhere over Spain.” Verbatim.
“Fifteen blue shirts and womanly hands, just shooting up the ladder.” Six promotions in four years and a closet full of button up blue shirts…
There are countless parallels. Many which deal with an unhealthy year of imbibing bottles of whiskey to the most copious degree. Perhaps it was the more-than-obvious symptom that my life was falling further and further into the American Dream that kept me well-oiled (underwater, drunk, sloshed, hammered…) and running.
And I almost scattered it all.
I haven’t spoken of or even reviewed the new album to even the slightest degree. People ask me how it is, and I nonchalantly put skin on its immensity. I may make the assertion that it is more ‘metal’ than Metal. I will say things that are very buzzy like: “it’s so rich,” “it’s remarkably earthy,” “his voice is like a velvet blanket,” or “it’s so immediate.” Truthfully, after the Walkmen’s album Heaven, I have settled the pop-music-misery. The new album allowed me to love the National in a new way. It allowed me to stop reading the news.
I got to appreciate the new album in an altered light: through experience and the numbness of the past. It’s a quiet night now, and I don’t find myself lost in the haze so much. I truly love the music, and I can hear the walk-off coming. As we just become content with our lives as they are… we can pour the instinctual and the instantaneous out for a just a twinkling minute. Only for a moment.
And then I find myself, in my favorite chair, face calmed by incandescent light as I read a decent book and think, “You can all just kiss off into the air…”