Jeffrey Parker: Holden Caulfield, art and indecision

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.

– J.D. Salinger

And so, at 22-years old, I begin with the opening lines of a novel most people grow out of at 15. Screw you college, I didn’t grow up. Wait, that might not be a good thing … but I digress. To the matter at hand: 30 inches, really? Then I guess I’d like to begin (or re-begin) by apologizing for whatever it is I’m about to put you through, in spite of the fact that I’m not entirely sure what that is at the moment. Unbridled solipsism in five, four, three, two, one….

I’ll begin with the thanks so I can end with something terribly meaningful and pithy. Or not. Thanks to Michael Barnett for dragging me to The Hatchet townhouse one day after Kafka class and getting me started here. Thanks to Sacha Evans for editing the ramblings of a freshman who had pretty transparently started at The Hatchet because he thought he might be able to get a copy of the new Strokes record – I promise my motivations became more pure, eventually. Thanks to Maura Judkis for guiding me calmly through the transition from writer to editor over the course of a series of frantic phone calls, all of which began, “I’m sorry to call again, Maura, but I’m in way over my head.” Thanks to Caitlin Carroll for having faith in me, giving me a column last year despite my warning that I didn’t really, you know, do much that would interest anyone during my year abroad, and for making me arts editor this year despite my warning that, you know, I had no experience. Thanks to Erin Shea, Natalie Kates and Allie Hagan for staying in production for far too long because I was cutting down my 5-10-20s that were always too long. Thanks to Caitlin DeMerlis and Brendan Polmer for making my job much easier. Thanks to the professors who have indulged me in class as I tried to explain how the Velvet Underground really does have something to do with The Closing of the American Mind or how Pavement lyrics speak to identity politics in Ireland. Finally, thanks to my friends and family who have made the last four years fantastic. I think the point is that everyone has been far more patient with me than maybe I deserve, and I’m thankful. If I’ve left anyone out, blame my ineptitude, not my heart.

When people ask me what I’ll be doing next year, I either tell them that that’s an excellent question or that I haven’t made any definite plans beyond poverty. They laugh, but not like they used to. When I was a freshman and I didn’t know what I wanted to do, people would tell me that I shouldn’t know yet, that that’s what college was for. When I was a sophomore and I didn’t know what I wanted to do, it was sort of cute. Once I became a junior, though, people started to look at me funny – they started joking about me being homeless, and giving me well-meaning speeches about being a boat without a rudder in a vast ocean of possibility blah blah blah blah blah. And now I’m a senior, a few weeks shy of graduation, and I’m not entirely sure what I’ll be doing this time next year (at the moment my thesis doesn’t give me much time to think of how I’ll feed myself in the immediate future), and people have started treating me like some sort of tragic case. And maybe I am one.

Now’s the part where I’m supposed to say something that’s True or Beautiful or Wise, right? That probably won’t happen. That probably won’t happen because I am a college senior, yes, but also because I am a person who consumes too much art. I read too many books about overanalysis (damn you, Dave Eggers) and I watch too many films about something confusion (I now understand why most of my family, the gainfully employed part of my family, hasn’t been able to laugh at Reality Bites the way I have). Mostly, though, like Rob Fleming (God I wish I had a more complex literary analogue), I blame pop records. It’s the music that brings home the lesson the loudest, because there are songs I find it hard to listen to because of what they mean to me. “Certain songs they get so scratched in to our souls,” quoth Craig Finn.

This, I think, is the thick black line that one can’t uncross, the point of separation between the normal and, well, me. While it’s one thing to let art affect life, it’s quite another to let life affect art, and at this point life intensifies art for me in the same way that art is meant to intensify life. I can coolly analyze it, sure, and I do sometimes, but there’s something visceral there, too, something that tightens my chest and won’t let go.

I used to joke that my living across the street from a record store was tantamount to a junkie living across the street from a crackhouse, and I’m starting to realize that there’s probably some truth to that, because music can be like a drug, and a versatile one at that – it’s an upper, it’s a downer, it’s a constant source of self-medication. There’s no self-destructive dependency to it, but I probably need music in my own way.

And I don’t suspect I’d have it any different. I write about music every week for The Hatchet, and when I’m not doing that, I’m busy working on my thesis on indie rock. This, then, is what I should really be thankful for at the end of these four years: an outlet to obsess over the pop culture ephemera and rock and roll minutiae that consumes me. Now, I’ve certainly had issues with GW – too many students don’t care, and God help us if certain of the Brooks Brothers pseudointelligentsia here who aspire to the corridors of power achieve their dreams. In the end, though, slackers and sycophants can only bother me if I let them, and besides, they populate the world outside Foggy Bottom, too, so I probably ought to get used to them. I had amazing professors, got to spend the best year of my life abroad, found an incredible group of friends, carved out my own niche and received absurd amounts of free concert tickets and CDs just for thinking and writing about music.

It’s easy to complain, but in the end, I’ve been lucky enough to do pretty much exactly what I want, right down to subjecting an entire campus to 30 column inches of my neuroses. I’ll figure everything else out eventually, but that seems like enough for now.

– 30 –

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