Close your eyes

Rock Out.jpg

A screen capture of this Shure ad has been sitting on my desktop for a year or so now. It bothers me a great deal— historically, I think music has been a way of connecting with the world not blocking it out. But music is also linked to escapism and flight to a sort of internal spiritual realm. The dichotomy doesn’t resolve itself neatly. There are a lot of things that I could suggest about this image. For one, music began as a social activity that has been gradually marginalized into privatized spaces, culminating in its domain being simply the distance between your ears. It seems like a rip-off and impoverishment of experience when looked at from that angle.

But in the space between your ears, and more importantly with your eyes closed, there is a sort of purity to it. Metaphorically speaking, it’s as if god whispers to you. To block out the world requires closing your eyes. But closing your eyes—returning to the dark side— suggests a form of death. Not an actual death, but deep separation from our social natures. I am reminded of a song by Steve Wynn about the ending of a relationship:

When they bring down the curtain
In an hour and 45 minutes
we can talk about the play
and pretend that we were never in it

flashes lit up the skies
thunder and then surprise
you can close your eyes

when the earth shakes,
opens up and swallow itself
I won’t be thinking about anybody else

fury and fire flies
it’s too late for compromise
you can close your eyes

words turn to anger,
anger comes to blows
nobody feels the hit but everybody knows

when nothing can tantalize
it’s gonna take a new set of lies
you can close your eyes

Close Your Eyes, from Dazzling Display

The complexity is rewarding. Part of what I read into this is a sort of necessary blindness in the name of moving forward, in the name of getting to the next sort of fiction you have to believe to be safe within a social relationship: “a new set of lies.” The implication is not that closing your eyes grants purity, but rather simply that it shuts out the previous deception. The headphone listener closes their eyes— a different sort of deception, a different relationship with music.

The title track, and indeed the entire LP Dazzling Display nestles in the shadow of its cultural preconditions: the first Gulf War. Many of the songs reflect the shallowness of a television war, with all it’s deceptions and facades. But it seems fallacious to suggest that if we close our eyes to outside stimuli and “block out the world” that the messages we receive will have greater purity, particularly if what concerns us is this world rather than the next. It is a conundrum. Music is a communicative phenomenon that unfolds in space and time, not outside it— just like relationships and wars. Both require massive leaps of faith— suspensions of disbelief, or at the very least, cynicism. Nonetheless, we are easily deceived. Try this video for example:

Even when you know the trick involved, you still can’t help but be deceived. Unless you close your eyes. But live musical events are seldom experienced with eyes closed. Deception is a core feature of the aesthetic experience. If we knew precisely what the experience was, it would lose its attractiveness.