Monday, May 06, 1996

AUC: Being happy? It’s all in your head

[Originally published in the Long Beach Union (student paper at Long Beach State), in my occasional column called...]
Another Useless Column

As a member of the post-Boomer generation, I realize I’m supposed to be cynical and crass and filled with ennui. Now don’t get me wrong: I have more than adequate levels of cynicism to get into the meetings.

Between the national debt, pollution, injustice, the economy, general uncertainty about the future, and the fact that Joey Lawrence still has a career, I think no one could blame us if we all became card-carrying nihilists.

At the risk of getting kicked out of the club, however, I have a confession.

I’m kind of happy with my life at the moment.

I know, I know. I’m as surprised as you. My life is far from perfect, mind you, but hell, I’ve never had any disputes resolved on a daytime talk show.

Everyone wants to be happy. Well, everyone except Morrissey, but that’s only because it would be a bad career move.

So what makes people happy? Who knows? Perhaps that’s the problem: some people haven’t figured out what brings happiness. That, or maybe we really do lead a pointless existence in a Godless universe where nothing we do matters. I’m on the fence on that one.

Speaking for myself, my present lack of dissatisfaction can be traced to a simple fact: I’ve been down, and I’m not there anymore. I lived through self-esteem shattering effects of getting divorced, getting laid off, and being unemployed and broke for months. (The worst part of having nothing to do is that it gives one so much time to contemplate how lousy things are, with every passing day dragging one deeper into despair.)

Somehow, I survived, and when my fortunes turned, I was extremely appreciative. I lucked out and got a not-horrible job. I began writing for this rag and met a lot of cool folks. I actually had money to socialize again.

Perhaps that’s it: people. We crave interaction. Except maybe Ted Kaczinsky. But for the most part, we are social animals. The irony, of course, is that people often are the greatest source of aggravation in people’s lives. The other irony is that happiness must come from within, and yet we become [sic] look outward. Ain’t we screwy.

And mere platonic friendship isn’t quite enough. The search for that special someone proves a major concern in the quest for happiness. We long to find that person whose neuroses jibe with our own, and we dub it love. And darn if it isn’t just the best distraction there is. Oh wait. That’s sex.

Sorry. I’m sounding sarcastic. Love is good. Honest. Sincerely. I recommend it highly. Get back on the horse, no matter how often you’re thrown.

Alert readers have probably discerned another large component of why my malaise-meter is reading so low: yes, I’ve met someone I like a lot who seems to like me back. I don’t know what will come of it. Oh sure, my cynical side gnaws at me, wondering when it’s all going to blow up in my face, but for now I’m reveling in the moment.

Perhaps that’s it: setting the joy-telescopes to pick up the light in the dim stars rather than waiting for the full illumination of dawn.

Or maybe it’s a matter of perfecting the art of self-deception. In the end, whether you’re genuinely happy or just think you are, isn’t the effect the same in the end? [sic]

[2006 note: Hell of an editing job, eh?]

Age of Reason (Paul Westerberg review)

[The following is a review I wrote for the Music page of the Long Beach Union, the student paper at Long Beach State.]

Age of Reason

Paul Westerberg is getting older. But then, aren’t we all?

In his younger days, he fronted the seminal Minneapolis post-punk band the Replacements. The debauchery of their live shows often outshined Westerberg’s brilliant songwriting.

After the group broke up, many expected Westerberg’s first solo album (14 Songs) to be a reserved work focused on the songwriting. Instead, it proved a diverse collection, with lush ballads, unabashed rockers, and ever a song recorded in one take in his kitchen.

Three years later, Westerberg’s sophomore effort, Eventually, finds the 36 year-old contemplating life differently than he did in the wild days of youth.

Eventually flows more like a proper album than did 14 Songs. I’m not sure if that’s good or not.

The album opens with the contemplative “These Are The Days,” then segues into the semi-political “Century.” Of course, politics Westerberg style is not scathing, rather merely commenting: “The only ones standing after your speech/Are the ones with mops and the brooms and the keys.”

The standout track is the pensive “Hide n Seekin’,” which picks up on the threads of the Replacements’ “Here Comes a Regular.” A lone guitar, accompanied by brushes on a snare and a lilty flute, provides the backdrop for the song’s bar scene, where the narrator dismisses with the game-playing of youth: “Hide ‘n seekin’s for children, baby/Now it’s hid and saw.”

In the country song “Once Around the Weekend,” he accepts the slower pace of life, noting “I stay in every night of the week.” He can appreciate the quieter moments in life (or at least can remember them).

Even the angst (inasmuch as there is any) comes across in a somewhat detached way. In “MamaDaddyDid,” Westerberg sings, “Decided not to raise any children/Just like my Ma-ma-mama Daddy did.” Rather than seeming a bitter criticism, however, it comes across as accepting of the parents’ inadequacies. Westerberg’s gotten over it.

There’s also a certain optimism permeating the songs, most obvious in the piano ballad “Good Day.” Perhaps the death of former Replacements’ guitarist Bob Stinson last year made Westerberg appreciate things, as evidenced by the lines: “Sing along/Hold my life/A good day/Is any day that you’re alive.”

The rockers, like “You’ve Had It With You,” don’t succeed as well as some cuts. Westerberg can still turn out power pop tunes with the best of them, but they aren’t his best material.
I guess that’s the thing about Westerberg: he really is one of the best songwriters out there, so I apply higher standards to him.

Eventually is an outstanding album. It far exceeds most of what’s out there today. So will it receive the attention it deserves? Probably not.

If you want to hear what bands like the Goo Goo Dolls will sound like in a few years, you can hear it now by picking up Paul Westerberg. No matter how old you feel.