Wattson Wednesday W(rap) #2
Wattson Wednesday W(rap) #2
Into The Vault: Dissecting ‘Library of Babel’ Off the 2020 Wattson x Ronesh record Bonsai
Hello everyone! One positive consequence of nourishing my creative spark for the past few years is the sheer output of creative work. Hundreds of ideas parsed down into dozens of produced songs published into a handful of projects.
One big negative consequence is, frankly, people’s attention spans stink.
Even though music is easier to distribute than ever, the nature of music distribution has changed dramatically. Want to know why your favorite artists aren’t producing whole albums anymore? Because you don’t listen to them. Not all of them.
It’s not entirely your fault. The attention economy is full steam ahead, and I do not beg for your engagement (nor do I pay anyone other than my web hosts to market/promote my content…). Also I’m grown and speak about grown problems and most people that vibe with me are also grown, and hence either busy AF at all times or sitting anxious about not being busy AF.
Anyway, all this to say, today is the day that I begin introducing you to songs that you almost certainly haven’t heard before. The songs that made the lower half of the album but not due to any weakness or because I hide tracks (I like all the music that you’ll hear…)
Not only that, I’m going to ‘Rap Genius’ the lyrics for those of you to understand the content AND context of where I’m going with the song.
And this one’s kind of a doozy:
The beat is a haunting concoction sent to me by the maestro Ronesh as is. All the twists and turns existed when I received it, and i knew that there would be a creative arc to this song if not a narrative one.
The song’s title comes from a short story by Spanish surrealist fiction author Jorges Luis Borges. The story describes a physical library of seemingly infinite dimension that is believed to contain every word ever written. This would include all words written and yet to be written. The story even briefly describes sects of people searching for the one book that is the “master index” of the library, for surely that would be the true wealth of knowledge. (Yeah, I read this shit for fun you guys).
There’s something very overwhelming about this imagined world. It took me into all sorts of overwhelming imagined worlds… Worlds drawn from kung fu films, Kurt Vonnegut short stories, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, my own troubled psyche…
I sit in silence resting tenuously in the clearing
fatigued conserving energy til enemies appearing (imagine a samurai meditating in a forest)
Silence interrupted by the ringing in my ears (There’s double meaning here. The first meaning references years of loud music that has led to a mild case of tinnitus, which is somewhat annoying… The second reference is to the Kurt Vonnegut short story HARRISON BERGERON, which paints a dystopian future society that strives for equality at the cost of torturing those would-be ‘outliers’ with painful alarms sent through implants. The title character was, unsurprisingly, not dissuaded by such alarms and paid the ultimate price for his dissent from the norm, but it paints a bleak picture of striving for equality at all costs)
I’ve set the goal of conquering my fears
Everyone want to be in the lights (On stage, the center of attention)
Why shouldn’t i want it too?
Even just a teeny tiny bit?
I promise to stay calm its cool (Everyone behaves differently when people are paying attention to them)
They say to truly test your character
Make power moves (A good test of leadership is to give someone authority over a project. People ALSO behave differently when you give them authority, and this is often considered a ‘character test’ in the professional world)
Forge the gauntlet in the dying star and then go run the jewels (I love this line for so many reasons. 1) It’s rhythmically cool, 2) The ‘Power Gauntlet’ in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe is a major plot point from Guardians of the Galaxy through Avengers: Endgame and the TL;DR of this plot point is “Man steals jewels to make power move”. 3) Obvious El-P/Killer Mike shoutout!)
Then go in for daps, ya shoulder collapse, ya whole metacarpals are cracked (Imagine if you’re wearing the power of the universe on your hand and you went in for a fist bump)
But i hold in the snap, i know that i’m trapped, it felt like i charred a synapse (After the snap Thanos is weakened but seemingly satisfied he completed his mission. So he snaps once more to completely destroy the infinity stones/gauntlet (also preventing anyone from undoing his work). After he achieves his goal he is fairly unceremoniously killed for his actions, but it's too late. I’m exploring the difficulty in finding purpose after one has achieved a major goal. In Avengers, Thanos' ambitions cost him everything. But he could have lived beyond it. He sort of... gave up...kind of heartbreaking but resonated with me as I had trouble forming new life goals once I achieved major milestones.)
What even happened there my memory is lapsing scared
Flipped through volumes only to discover missing chapters teared (OK, anxiety about memory loss is a tricky thing to articulate. Not only memory loss, but loss of self. Loss of identity. Those losses feel so terrifying, and since I’d grounded myself in this library imagery I imagined all my memories written in a book, but pages torn/missing)
...Torn... the pages disintegrate when they detach from the tome (Obviously I’m worried about memory loss)
…Warn… enraged by the din that it make in the back of my dome (Another nod to HARRISON BERGERON, but also a common sensation when I am anxious is heavy ringing in my ears)
...storm… involuntarily i pressed record (Occasionally when I am stressed/anxious I revert to learned behaviors... these aren't always but can occasionally be unhealthy behaviors...)
All the words are missing but I never will forget the chords (I once read a book called THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON MUSIC by Daniel Levitin, a musician turned social psychologist. He researched how our brains store and remember music, and his insights while not conclusive suggested that our relationship with music is interminably complex. Specifically the research he did on brain damaged or otherwise totally non-verbal patients who could nonetheless hum along (or in some cases SING) songs from their childhood)
(Note: I realize the pitch adjustment is a choice, and it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. I wanted it to sound disembodied and foreboding, but I admit it could probably have been mixed/balanced a bit differently… I mean *I* like it, but I get it…)
Step by step I must creep further in the murky depths
Eyes adjusting to the dark the shadows keep dispersing breath (aka walking through a dark hallway after you’ve turned the living room lights off lol)
These Melodies creep from the corners of the distant past
Fill my heart with dread but I push forward on the twisted path (Can you tell I watched a lot of horror flicks growing up)
Always anxious did my best to fake it til it manifest
In ways i didn’t plan with panic stress and pressure head and chest (Classic anxiety attack symptoms)
Pain accumulated now i say i’m anxious and depressed (it’s not just me saying it, meaning I highly recommend therapeutic interventions. I feel less depression now but I live with the anxiety and it can suck sometimes)
Unaddressed it fester til I can’t ignore the damage left
focus on creative outlets got to keep my blessings fed (When I was feeling down my mom, a music therapist, highly recommended I just play ‘something’, and it would help. She was right. It helped me be more in the moment, and also helped me express gratitude for the gifts I DID have.)
Piece together captions of some long forgotten lessons read
The shimmer of recognition gleams when things seem hopeless
I’m actually certain that I wrote this... (One time I was sitting with Kelly and I mused that I heard some wild camp song that day and said two words of the song and she gleefully sang the entire song at full camp fire singalong volume. I LOVE those sort of muscle memory fed songs, especially when it’s something you wrote and you like sharing with people. )
I’m on the trail… crawling like a snail (Progress feels slow)
But you’ll still find me nipping at the tail (I love the tortoise and hare fable and I incorporate it all the time in my music. This is vaguely referential…)
I’m on the trail… bracing for the hail
If I don’t catch me slipping i can’t fail (A therapist once pointed out to me that it seems like even though I'm totally anxious about failure, I might be more afraid of success…)
(Inserted is a sample pulled from the TWILIGHT ZONE episode “Time Enough at Last”. I admit I became aware of this episode through parody, but the basic gist of the episode is this bookish man is obsessed with finding peace n the hustling mid-century world to sit and enjoy a book, so much so that he finds solace in his bank’s vault one day just as a nuclear war pops off outside, knocking him out. He wakes up to a post-apocalyptic world and as he’s about to succumb to despair of being alone he spots a library in the distance. Finally, as he’s ready to sit and tuck in to reading all the books he could ever care to read, his glasses break.
I *USUALLY* feel like I don’t have enough time to get everything done I want to accomplish. This Twilight Zone episode teases at a lot of anti-intellectual themes but the main takeaway for me is don’t wait until you’re alone in the apocalypse to devote time to the things you enjoy. Am I reading it wrong?) Verse 3:
Coulda woulda shoulda but you can’t or won’t or shouldn’t
I don’t know your cop out yet (I am not dogging anyone’s reasons for not focusing on things that fill their bucket, but I know how much it negatively impacts my spirit when I’m not feeding myself, and I’ve been in places in my life where I’ve found rationalizations for not even sitting at the table to eat. It's that "the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago... the next best time is today" but backwards)
I just know I couldn’t be the man I am if I didn’t get the courage up
To rock a set (Overcoming social and performance anxiety has been a huge challenge in my career)
Rather be a prophet than to turn one (a play on the homophones prophet and profit. I am as far from being prophetic as I am from turning a profit.)
Ampin’ up the wattage til it burns up (I am no electrical engineer, but I vaguely know that wattage isn’t necessarily the most lethal part of the electrical equation as the amperage. I’m afraid beyond that I’ll need you to google it)
Slicing up the product like a surgeon (Rhythmic subdivision like what?)
Gettin’ on the docket cuz it’s urgent (in this line i’m ironically expressing my angst to be heard and asking for expedited attention even though this is track 10 on the record)
Wishin’ up to god it doesn’t hurt much… (anytime you submit your art to the public sphere you open yourself up to criticism. I still haven’t decided which I dislike more: negative feedback or people ignoring me altogether)
Keepin’ vigil watching for diversions (Pay attention guys. Critical thinking skills still needed.)
Distractions ubiquitous now (In addition to being constantly inundated with more stimulus than any society in history has ever had to process, we've also been bombarded with crazy propaganda and disinformation. Weird times.)
And when your world becomes a fucking circus
You tend to get sick of the clowns (Fuck Drumpf)
And elephant shit,
It feels like a race to collect some irrelevant clicks
Watching as everything breaks to the point
That we’re all gonna be in a Hell of a fix
(I know the last four bars are a dramatic oversimplification of the negative impact disinformation and propaganda has in our public discourse, but it sucks you guys. People are misinformed, undereducated.. All this was pre-Covid, but the impact is so stark these days)
I shut my eyes Optics burning from excessive lumens
Steeled as I embark on the next chapter of this quest that’s looming
Sometimes the road less traveled leads people to nowhere (People speak of the road less traveled but most do not take this. It’s literally why it’s the road ‘less traveled’. And I don’t know if you’ve taken a little off-shoot on a woody trail and then just end up in the middle of nowhere, but…)
I guess i’ll never know until I go there (As nervous as I am about the unknown I never shy away from leaning into it. For this reason, it's usually a positive to 'not know' something, but we as a society tend to frown on this idea that we may not have all the answers or be in total control of our situation.)
Narrative Summary: This song is a tone poem in a lot of ways. The subject isn’t so much as important as the mood I attempted to establish with the piece. It sort of arcs the trajectory of my creative journey over the past few years. I started making beats a few years back with low energy and no creative inspiration. At times I worried I would never write a good song again, like I’d written all the content as an artist I was going to write. Further, I was beginning to forget the lyrics to some of the songs I had written.
I feel blessed not to have had a close family member who I’ve seen suffer through dementia. I am even more horrified at the idea that I might one day live in this muddy fog of cognitive ability. Not content just to sit and be anxious about it, I wrote down my thoughts.
A lot of the imagery I inserted in the song was inspired by the music itself. This song is artfully constructed, and while it feels like it goes all over the place there is a loose structure to it.
Hilariously, I wrote the entire Thanos imagery because when I first heard the beat I thought of the bar “Then go in for daps, your shoulder collapse” and thought what kind of dap would crush a man’s fist?!
That said, this song wasn’t ever going to have a ‘chorus’ in the traditional sense, nor was it going to tell a coherent story so much as convey a mood. The first verse is bewildered and frustrated, the second wounded but healing, and the third confident and defiant and ready to continue thrusting into the unknown.
I guess the main takeaway of this song is: It’s ok to sit down and take a close look at your anxieties and fears, but the main purpose of this reflection should be to steel yourself for future challenges. There will never be enough time to accomplish everything, but if you let the fear of failure or success paralyze you then you definitely will not accomplish anything.
Most importantly, go with the flow when you find a beat that fits your style! Hope you enjoyed!
All the best, Doc Wattson (Jonathan)
The Native Stranger