process not product
In which I discuss my qualms with the idea of careers and also my favorite song of the moment
A few days ago I wrote most of a real post about how the greater cultural attitude toward social media stars (specifically video creators) making music has changed in the last 5 years or so. I think it's a very interesting, compelling assessment of youtube and tiktok and music media and all these things I talk about all the time. I'll post that this week to give some, uh, actual thoughtful content I guess. But today I'm overcome with thoughts on a few things so everyone is getting a bonus personal post about careers and also about a song I'm stuck on. These things won't be related, but I will be forcing them together because I could use the same title for both. How about that.
Today I spent the better part of the late morning/early afternoon reading through a bunch of bits of advice music journalists have given as part of some freelance work I'm doing. For me, some are more helpful than others. Lots of "read a lot! write a lot!" and lots of contradictions between people which is normal. Should you try to make it your career only if it's the only thing you can see yourself doing? Should you focus on maintaining your internal passion instead of grinding at that "career" even if that means having another job? Maybe having another job is potentially a plus! Music (and, more broadly, culture) journalism isn't a straight line career path so all that contradiction makes sense. People have different view points. But it made me think about the concept of a career and advice given to young people generally.
I wonder all the time if the messaging in high schools has shifted away from this idea that going to college is this implicit decision that will lead to stability. Obviously that's not true. My mother is constantly lamenting how she fell victim to this idea that sending her kids to college was the focus and the rest would work itself out. Of course, this is kind of a dig at me and my sisters who don't have "careers" in the way she would like us to. None of us live at home and we're fine, but she'd prefer we be doing other things. I won't expose my sisters' lives, but my mother certainly isn't pleased I traded my lawyering prospects for ... well, I don't really know what yet. (Present tense: some freelance work and spending hours writing cover letters for random job openings in Philly.)
I think the goal of having a set career working for a company for 20, 30, 40 years has felt not only like an impossibility, but also a really strange dedication to the identity or status given by work. Even more than old school fear of socialism and communism, I think it's the driving force behind why wealthy and middle class people don't want socialized healthcare. Jobs in America are defined by healthcare benefits and people become consumed by their jobs. There's this narrative of "if you don't have healthcare, sorry you failed to choose the right career, but I didn't!" This knowledge that not everybody has healthcare makes it a point of pride to have been able to be consistently employed in, typically, a certain type of professional field. Take that away and you're taking away that point of pride. It's about perceiving some loss of what you earned. The same can be said for minimum wage being raised or overtime or that weird tweet about PTO. This is the kind of competition that is born out of people losing their identities to the workforce.
As I've been in a limbo of not really knowing what I want to pursue I've felt further alienated by all of this. I think there's some presumption that my natural next step would be to try to write in a more professional context or pursue that further. And to some extent I am kind of doing that. I've been attempting to do real music writer things and interview musicians. I'm even doing some real paid writing, believe it or not. And I've gotten encouragement toward that from friends, but I've found myself sitting in this deep uncertainty about my future, whatever that means. After a long time of doing things with very little intentionality and more as a reaction to panic or pressure than a real desire for fulfillment, I am trying to just sit in some uncertainty to hopefully make decisions that feel more sound. I'm in a position where I'm able to do that right now so instead of panicking I'm just trying to take time. (however if you are an editor at a blog and would like to commission me to write something about youtube or punk tiktok personalities or british indie punk please feel free to email me thank you)
Anyway, maybe that's why I've felt more anxious about writing my silly little newsletter. That's why I wrote all that stuff about disillusionment with the concept of a career. The newsletter is typically something I'm really proud of and I really enjoy spouting off for a while about whatever, but lately it feels like it says more about me than I'd prefer. I'm hoping maybe I'll post this and I'll feel better about it just because I'll have posted something. I don't know.
Onto more pressing matters. I cannot stop listening to Unlicensed Guidance Counselor by Drug Church. Recently I accidentally deleted a song from that album (2018's Cheer) from my Apple Music library when trying to remove it from a playlist so when I re-saved it the album was back in my recently saved.
I always liked Cheer, I think it's a sick record with almost equally sick merchandise. I'd categorize it as a like, not a love. Weed Pin was always the one I gravitated toward. Still a great song.
But this is about Unlicensed Guidance Counselor, another chapter in in a storied history of songs I become obsessed with that the band simply does not seem to play live. This one particularly hurts because they have a song of a very similar title that they seem to play consistently. Major flashbacks to when I used to suffer at Wonder Years shows because they'd put "My Life As" and I'd always want it to be "Rob Gordon" but without fail every time it was "As A Pigeon" and then I'd get bummed out. No Good Al Joad by Hop Along is another particular favorite that doesn't get live play, with the exception of this bedroom acoustic version Frances Quinlan played on an Instagram live. I cherish it.
At time of writing I've listened to Unlicensed Guidance Counselor a couple hundred times. Not the song I've listened to most this year, that honor goes to Cut Me Out by Trust Fund, but one I've stuck with and returned after being forced to experience other music for the sake of my other responsibilities which doesn't always happen with my momentary music preoccupations.
I think the narrative of the song, this notion of changing your life or mindset after falling into doing something wrong, is compelling. Some of the best lyrics on the album, in my opinion. The chorus is catchy. I like the way the whole track moves. But what makes a song one I not only can listen to hundreds of times, but a song I feel like I don't have a choice but to listen to that much?
So I've defined my two main factors:
- There has to be at least one line I can look forward to every time I listen. In this song there are two. I think "push your sister's boyfriend down the stairs" is a very funny thing to say. Why is it there's always a, like, 75% chance your sister is dating some asshole? I guess that's just the experience of having sisters.
Really the line I like and really hear every time I listen to the song is "life is process not product" which I just think rules. What a great line. Sounds like something I'd name a zine after. Maybe I will.
- The song has to end exactly right. It's why most songs on albums like Worry. Or Post- by Jeff Rosenstock, which I love and listen to a lot, can't be repeat songs. Too many of them end by much too obviously transitioning into the next song. That's great for an album experience, but we're not talking about that. We're talking about repeat value, something that matters to nobody except me.
With that, it helps if the song starts and ends pretty differently. This particular song ends with a little fading guitar noise but starts strong with some nice chuggy guitars. Repeat value all day.
I think so often, at least in the music listener purist echo chamber I'd like to escape, songs aren't properly valued as their own independent world. So much credence and love is given to the full album experience as this correct way to experience music. The same can be said for the way we discuss music. Decontextualizing a song can reveal new, beautiful things about your relationship to it. If you just focus on whether you like an album or not there can be a lot lost in the music listening experience.
I've found that if I can really focus on connecting with one song on an album I don't really enjoy then I'm more likely to continue to keep up with the band and return to the album and it makes for a more rewarding long term experience. There's too much pressure put on album listening purity.
Okay that's all I got. See ya soon!