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Rainy Days and Mondays
Karen Carpenter sparks an interesting conversation about art and a bizarre question about the meaning of Life...
[X and Y were sitting at a diner, drinking coffee and talking about nonsense, when the Carpenters’ song Rainy Days and Mondays1 started playing on the old transistor radio behind the counter.]
X: That song is really profound.
Y: Why? So you prefer sunshine and Saturdays. I get it. So does everyone. There’s no need to do a whole song about it.
X (groaning): No, dummy, that’s just one aspect of it. I’m talking about what the song represents: the dilemma at the heart of Life. And it’s not just the song, it’s the way the Carpenters performed it and the way Karen sang it. It’s beautiful, and it’s sad. But if they made it sound happier, it would lose some of its beauty. But at the same time, there is nothing beautiful about sadness by itself. It’s the art that these musicians made, tapping into their experience of sadness and using it as inspiration for their art, that is beautiful.
Y: Do you think you would say that if she hadn’t died young, self destructing in a tragic way?
X: Yeah, I would. The song is real. I mean, she’s not faking the emotions in it.
Y: But what if she never had anorexia and she’d wound up having this long, happy life? What if . . . she lived long enough to become one of these hardcore COVIDIAN Boomers like Neil Young?
X: If she’d never been depressed and insecure to the point of being anorexic, she wouldn’t have even been the same person. You might as well ask, what if Karen Carpenter wasn’t Karen Carpenter? That’s who she was, and that’s what she put into her vocals on this song.
Y: So her depression and anorexia were what made the song beautiful?
X: Not her depression and anorexia, but what she did with all that dark shit. The depression and anorexia, by themselves, are horrible and ugly. It’s the art she made. It’s like she was an alchemist with her music: she turned the dark stuff in her life into real gold in the form of beautiful songs.
Y: Good point. It’s what she did with the sorrow, not the sorrow itself, that is beautiful. But do you think it was worth it? I mean, would you choose a life of making beautiful music, if it meant you would be so insecure and have such low self-esteem, that you starved yourself to death like she did? Or there’s Layne Staley, who sang all those great Alice in Chains2 songs but died alone of an overdose and nobody found his body until it was decomposed beyond recognition. I mean, I love Facelift and Dirt and think Layne Staley was one of the best vocalists ever, if not the best, but if making that music required that level of despair, it hardly seems worth it.
X: I don’t think it’s worth it for the person who is ultimately defeated by it, but you can overcome pain and sorrow. They didn’t, tragically, and a lot of people don’t, but you can, and that’s the ideal. Victory. Then you make art from that perspective, after you’ve come out the other side in triumph, and that’s the best there is. That perspective is complete. You’re not happy because you’re naïve and you’ve never been tested; you’re joyful because you’ve been through the valley of the shadow of death and all that, but you overcame it and you’re stronger and wiser for the experience and what you did with it.
Y: Yeah, too bad Layne Staley and Karen Carpenter didn’t make it. I guess it’s at least something that they made the music they did. I mean, making great art may not be worth dying from despair, but at least the music is something. So many people die of despair without making anything good from it. Obviously, it’s terrible when someone’s life ends that way, but if they would have died of despair whether they made great music or not, I guess it’s better that they made great music.
X: If they hadn’t made music, they probably would have self-destructed even sooner.
Y: You’re probably right. Makes you wonder what this world is all about, when this is what it does to so many great artists.
X: I guess you also have to wonder what art is all about, when artists see the ugliness and sorrow in the world and feel compelled to try to turn it into something beautiful. That could be a good thing: art gives us the tools to turn a negative into a positive. But this could be a chicken-and-egg problem. We think the dark shit in Life comes first, and the Muses allow us to make something worthwhile of it; but what if it’s the reverse?
Y: What do you mean? Great art causes suffering?
X: Not directly. I mean, what kind of spirits are these Muses? You could almost say, the Muses require sorrow and tragedy to inspire their greatest and most beautiful works. Are they a blessing or a curse?
Y: Well, if the world’s ugliness and misery is there, whether great art gets made or not, at least that art gives us something, so I guess the Muses are a blessing.
X: You know how we’ve been talking about Gnosticism lately. Suppose the Gnostics are right. And what if the Muses and the Demiurge are one and the same? What if the “Muses,” i.e., the Demiurge, created this world and created us, so we’d make art for them? What if we’re just instruments being played by the Muses, whatever they are, for their benefit, whatever that is? People pay attention to art and artists; what if the way we use the term “pay” is not just a metaphor? What if they “feed,” somehow, off our attention and emotional energy, and art is just a highly effective way for them to harvest it for their benefit, without any regard for our happiness or well-being?
Y: So we’re like characters in a Vonnegut novel, living in a human zoo on the Planet Tralflamadore? And our art is like a focal point for our Loosh energy, to make it easier for the zookeepers to harvest it, and harvesting that energy is the entire point of the spiritual control-system over our world?
X: What if?
Y: Yeah, I’d rather not think about that.
[Right on cue, the song Rainy Days and Mondays ended, and then a more cheerful and lighthearted song began playing. The conversation soon turned to other topics.]
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The Music Promo Video of The Carpenters song Rainy Days and Mondays. The first 45 seconds are still photos, but thereafter the video shows them performing the song in the studio, with Karen Carpenter not only singing but playing drums:
Alice in Chains performing Bleed the Freak live, with Layne Staley in top form; unlike many rock (and especially grunge) singers who sounded noticeably worse live than in studio recordings, Staley would nail every note on stage: