Impending economic and environmental collapse, asteroids crashing into the earth, the Yellowstone supervolcano that might wipe out half of North America, the mega-tsunami that could wipe out the East Coast, terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, drug-resistant germs, influenza, AIDS, the super-collider in Switzerland that might accidentally make a black hole that will suck up the earth… Shall I go on?
The list of things that could destroy the human race is as long as my arm. Maybe you don’t dwell on them, but they’re in the back of your mind. All those disturbing newscasts and Discovery Channel specials take their toll on your psyche after a while, don’t they?
How do you live your life when it feels like the world is constantly on the verge of apocalypse? Well, you’re going to find a way. It has ALWAYS felt like that — for generations in fact. Somehow the world keeps chugging along, but now and again we get little reminders — like the Haiti earthquake, the oil spill in the Gulf, or 9-11 and the wars that followed — that things are not well. And when you get down to it, you’re headed for your own personal apocalypse anyway. Nobody lives forever. The real question is, in the face of impending doom, how do you live well?
I think I might have an answer, at least one that works for me, thanks to a strange and wonderful group called the Legendary Pink Dots: “Sing while you may…” (for it may not be very long). It’s a theme that comes up often in their music. To me the meaning is close, but not exactly the same as that of carpe diem – sieze the day. I think “seize the day” implies more of an ability to change things. The Dots’ philosophy is more about expressing yourself. You may not make a mark on the world, which either is or is not about to end regardless, but it’s still beautiful and it’s still meaningful. Birds live that way. So should we.
My taste in music is so eclectic that I’ve often said I don’t have a favorite band, but right now I have to admit that the Dots are it. It took years for them to grow on me to that extent. They’re very strange, very experimental, and cover a lot of styles, but they tend to have common themes, such as:
Fascination with different kinds of apocalypse and something they call the Terminal Kaleidoscope – all the patterns in society are part of a repeating cycle that’s accelerating towards doomsday. “The More It Changes” from The Golden Age embodies this concept.
Sing While You May (for it may not be very long) – a phrase that keeps popping up. Life is short, usually painful, so the best thing you can do it express yourself while you can, make some kind of statement.
There’s also a fascination with numerology, aliens, insanity, playful but dark speculations about God and the Devil, murder, suicide, the post-apocalyptic world, repeating cycles, fate…
Singer Edward Ka-Spel has an incredibly fertile imagination and is a brilliant lyricist. His songs disturb, uplift, make you think. Just an example, “Destined to Repeat” from Hallway of the Gods:
“Your face seems so familiar. I’m sure we’ve met some place before. It could be we were lovers, maybe eye to eye in some… war. With pulling faces, screaming like two imbeciles. Two racing bayonets. We connect, it’s unmistakable. So don’t you look the other way. Don’t lie back and pretend that you are sleeping. This is something we’re too deep in. We’re destined to repeat. Come to me my lover. Speak to me my enemy. You cannot run away from me – we’re destined to repeat. Look this way my lover. Speak to me my enemy – we’re driftwood on an endless sea…”
They’ve been around for 30 years and have produced a huge body of work. They’re so experimental that getting into it can be daunting. I would recommend starting with one of these albums: The Maria Dimension, Hallway of the Gods, Asylum, Crushed Velvet Apocalypse, Your Children Placate You from Unmarked Graves, or Plutonium Blonde.
There’s a lot to them. Just give them a listen and have an open mind. Their styles and sounds are so wide-ranging that you are bound to hear things you don’t like, or that puzzle you, but if you persevere, you are also going to find music you will love, music that will speak to your soul.
LPD are going through a bit of an existential crisis of their own at the moment. They recently announced that longtime members Niels Van Hoorn (woodwinds) and Martin de Kleer (guitar) had quit the band. Past member Erik Drost returned to the band on guitar. (Edward and Phil Knight (keyboards) are the core of the group, so as long as they’re still on board, LPD remains.) Then the band had to cancel the rest of its 30th anniversary tour because Edward’s mother is ill. Here’s hoping that she makes a full recovery and the band gets to go back on tour. I’ve seen them live in Austin a couple of times and they were wonderful. Edward comes across like some kind of a shaman, very charismatic. I would love to see them perform again. I’ll miss Niels and his crazy suit, but I’ve heard the band evolve and change over the years and I know whatever they do next will be just as captivating.
The Dots are still quite underground, but those who are into them love them intensely, so there’s a wealth of fan-made LPD videos on Youtube right now, as well as some surprisingly good live performance captures.