'Happy Suicide, Jim!' Burns Like Lake Erie, Now You're Addicted to The Love Kills Theory
Right around the time I discovered what the world's all about, i.e., that we're lied to and manipulated by a system that is a vast Leviathan, a relentless machine powered by work, consumption, conquest abroad, and repression at home, I took the blue pill of awareness in the form of coming to New York for college, studying Existentialism, and seeing punk rock and avant gard jazz every night. I also read political philosophy books like "The Revolution of Everyday Life." This book explained a lot - why my parents and other adults I knew would become more dissatisfied and angst ridden the more they bought stuff that they didn't really need; why as a young teenager I would always go to the neighborhood where it was "happening" and always be disappointed because nothing was; why the revolution promised by the '60's, despite great gains, metaphorically speaking, ended in murder and suicide.
So I set about looking to avoid the dehumanizing and crushing conformity of life as a working stiff, a spiritless drone. And the struggle continues, though with age and time and the ever-advancing intrusions of marketing, manufactured desire and the corporatization of nearly everything, it becomes harder, like the desperate lone man in the classic film "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," to remember DON'T FALL ASLEEP or you'll wake up ONE OF THEM!
Thankfully, The Love Kills Theory on their new CD Happy Suicide, Jim! makes sure that sure this won't happen on their watch. They are the kings of the power pop, classic rock hybrid and stand shoulder to shoulder with New York political art rockers Blow Up Hollywood as the best at combining an intelligent, deep, political philosophy with powerful, smart rock music. Let's start with labeling and products...
[Kirby] How would you classify your music?
[Cevin Soling] It's tough, actually. I am predominantly grounded in melody and hooks. The reviews have labeled the music as punk, electronica, power pop, garage, and so on. I like the fact that it is hard to define since it means we've hit upon something new. The problem, of course, is that without being readily classified in an era where demographic marketing is essential for exposure, it is easy to get ignored if you can't be positioned. When asked, I generally defer to the alternative rock category since that is pretty broad.
[Kirby] This is alternative rock in the truest sense. And they would have fit right in with the late 70's and early 80's scene, because back then, punk meant anything goes, including uncool retro garage rock (The Flamin' Groovies) intense politics-meets-punk and reggae (The Clash) and verbally acute conceptual rockishness (Gang of Four, Devo). The Love Kills Theory recalls a time when music wasn't just myspace blog self absorption or market conscious brand posturing, but actually communicated ideas.
Their music and lyrics remind one not to take the tick tock, time clock life of work-consume-die so seriously. After all, much of what we take as important, as "real life" is nothing more than manufactured desire, most of which gives little, temporary satisfaction, if any at all. In fact the following words from their song "Region of the Worms" should be taped on the drawer where you keep your socks or on the cover of the bible so you can keep things in their proper perspective: "In the Spectacle / Everything is a product / From your thoughts and desires / To your basic conduct / All these empty things / Of which our world is based / From the goods we pursue / There is no escape / And the goods mediate / How we all relate / Like a big jack boot / On a human face / Resistance is an ad campaign / Rebellion merely entertains / We only speak in passive terms in the Region of the Worms." Listen with necessary discretion and attention.
I understand you went to Harvard. Is your background or main interest politics, philosophy and related subjects?
[Cevin Soling] I am not sure what disciplines are excluded when you include "related subjects." When I was very little, my first passion was astronomy, but I later realized that was because I thought it held the answers to the "big" questions that philosophy grapples with. With the advent of quantum physics and the ramifications that continue to emerge, the union of philosophy and science continues to become increasingly more apparent. Understanding is irrelevant without application and I guess that would be where politics comes in. My interests are in whatever enables a deeper understanding of all things.
[Kirby] This deeper understanding and critique of culture comes at you hard from the beginning of Happy Suicide, Jim! to the end. The opening cut "Authenticity" sets the tone of the record. Acoustic and electric guitars play jangly chords and driving lead riffs. A strong back beat from drums and tambourine propel the song. Clear and distorted voices sing, "All the lies just dull our minds / Separate / Saturate / Apathy prevails." The group's theme song, "The Love Kills Theory," captures something missing from the rock of today - humor and a true sense of irony, not to mention a deeper contemplation of life and what the heck is goin' on. "Then you wonder why good is fading / the things you're wanting are the things you're hating / what sustains you now makes you weary / you're addicted to the love kills theory." The song is based on the kind of two chord rock that has caused girls to scream and fists to pumps for generations. Mr. Soling's smooth talk-sing style of vocal delivery is as cool as Lou Reed and as on point as Princeton University Professor Cornel West.
But before you think the record is all ponderous preaching and teaching, it must be said that this record is chock full of catchy tunes, burning guitar and vocal hooks galore. "Found" has a sound that is classic rock and would fit right in with VH1 programming. The acoustic guitar and vocal melody float and evoke wistfulness. The wordless vocals on the chorus and the tasteful use of the string section reminds this listener of Marc Bolan and T-Rex.
[Kirby] Why did you choose music to communicate your philosophies?
[Cevin Soling] I have always loved music from the first time I heard it and didn't realize that my appreciation was profoundly different from my family and most of my friends until I was 10 or 11. It was a strange revelation. I was in particular awe of the Beatles when I was very little and that sense has only continued to grow the more I learn. I had been struggling for a while to find the best way to bring my ideas to a large audience. There is a large segment of music listeners who are truly discerning and take very seriously what artists strive to say. It is hard to find that kind of audience in other modes of expression. Songs are brief, memorable, and viral.
[Kirby] What drew you to the philosophies of the Situationists? What books influenced you the most?
[Cevin Soling] There is a natural stream of consciousness and progression to my studies. I was inspired by Gang of Four. In their music, they are clearly fascinated by what they see as the commodifization of human relations which presumably evolved from their studies of the Frankfurt School's approach to Marxism. Their deconstruction of every day interpersonal interactions also seemed to be inspired by the Situationists and led me to take their approach quite seriously. As far as books in that general vein go, I would strongly recommend Neil Postman's, "Amusing Ourselves to Death." While it's not a Situationist work, it could be.
[Kirby] Amusing ourselves to death describes the unintended consequence of the media overload of celebrity worship, sports and other amusement items that make up mass culture. It sums up such social phenomenons as a man killing his mom for telling him to stop arguing with his dad over a N.Y. Mets mid-season loss, rampaging obesity and reality television. The song "King of Cream" captures this sentiment in hard rockin' music, music that could be the soundtrack to a NASCAR beer commercial. But herein lies the subversive quality of The Love Kills Theory and, at its best, rock itself. While the listener hums along with a catchy tune, the lyrics expose what the all night party people are really about: "I'm the king of cream/ With the fantailed sheets / All my nights are days / And my days are sleep / And it always seems / Purple Heart / Amphetamines / Blur the nights into an endless dream."
Musically the band tends toward the anthem side of rock. The bigness is not only in the driving guitar. On the song "The Poverty of Student Life," for example, a wailing electric violin takes the band's sound over the top, and provides some tasty soloing as well. While this isn't a revolutionary instrumental choice, it is unusual and adds to the sonic richness that makes the medicine of the message go down. As Mary Poppins sang, "Just a spoon full of sugar..."
[Kirby] What made you write the song "Poverty of Student Life?"
[Cevin Soling] One of the seminal moments of the Situationist movement was the publication of the pamphlet, "On the Poverty of Student Life" at the University of Strasbourg. It is a powerful and remarkably intelligent work, so naturally it was met with derision and condescension by the establishment at the time. Today, it would simply be ignored because few would be able to comprehend its content or revolutionary exhortations. I've spent the last three or four years working on a documentary about the oppression of youth in America. The denial that exists in the consciousness of most is reminiscent of attitudes regarding slavery in the 18th Century. For example, whichever deprived underclass you can name, it is an absolute certainty that the children of that oppressed group have it much worse because they are even more powerless and subject to everyone's capricious whims, abuse, and neglect. In spite of this, the media portrays children as if they have all the power in our society.
[Kirby] On your website, you write that "The Love Kills Theory is based on an amalgam of the works of Guy Debord and Aldous Huxley, fused with the current biogenetic studies on the evolution of despair."
[Cevin Soling] Again, I don't want to simplify things too much, but from Debord I borrowed the notion of the spectacle and living through the experiences of others, a faceless history, or the simulacrum. The evolution of despair is an emerging science that analyzes how the tens of thousands of years involved in the evolution of man as a tribal animal with intimate social connections is suddenly thrust into the world of the industrial revolution and experiences profound alienation that leads to pathological mental states. Huxley's contribution was his depiction of the future in Brave New World as a place where humanity is destroyed by the things we love. It goes beyond simple commodity fetishism into a spirit of desire for instant gratification that values being entertained above all else. Ultimately, the fusion of all of this describes us as neurotic and depressed vessels who passively demand some kind of distraction or temporary relief from ourselves and the world.
[Kirby] Where can such relief be found? How can freedom be found? Such questions can only be answered by... whom? Therein lies the rub. Still, there is solace, and perhaps a way out of the matrix, in creativity and catharsis, both of which can be found on the CD Happy Suicide, Jim!. As the man who wrote "The Revolution of Everyday Life," Raoul Vaneigem, says in Chapter 1, "The path of liberation lies in what is most familiar. Was it ever otherwise? Art, ethics, philosophy bear witness: under the crust of (music), words and concepts, the living reality of non-adaptation to the world is always crouched, ready to spring." He could have been talking about The Love Kills Theory.
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