Between Paranoid and Haunted Trees

“I’m feeling rough. I’m feeling raw. I’m in the prime of my life.”

~ from MGMT’s “Time to Pretend” off of Oracular Spectacular

Hidden among many of my favorite hip hop and rap tunes, crouches, like a clever stowaway, the song “Kids” by MGMT. Being the solitary voice of the (modern psychedelic?) rock genre in this not-so-eclectic playlist, the song stands out but also stands its ground. And, with gusto.

There is just something about the chorus—control yourself/take only what you need from it/a family of trees wanting to be haunted—that speaks to both the desire and the resistance in me as I imagine it does in many listeners.

In fact, the entirety of Oracular Spectacular, MGMT’s first release (2007), speaks to my very core. It is one of those albums that I’d bring if sailing off to be imprisoned on a deserted island (if I was permitted to bring albums) along with PJ Harvey’s To Bring you my Love and Outkast’s Aquemini.

But, of course, I am no critic of music. I only know that I like what I like and I like MGMT.

But, why “Kids”? Why not another, perhaps less popular, tune from that release? Why is it even on that playlist, nestled cozily between Flo Rida and Eminem? I mean, one minute Ty Dolla $ign is paranoid because his bitches know about each other and the next we’re contemplating the restraint (or lack thereof) of a group of desperate trees.

It’s simple. Of course.

Something in that song evokes in me the same thrill that hip hop evokes in me. And, that’s a whole lotta thrill. As of recent, my wild side is being filled, sated, held off slightly, by music. Especially hip hop and rap.   And, while Oracular Spectacular is filled with the youthful longing to be wild (“I’ll move to Paris/shoot some heroin…”) and free (“This is a call to arms to live and love and sleep together…”), “Kids” speaks to temperance. Or, at least I think it does. And, that is what I need right now—a melodic reminder not to suck the life out of situations, people, myself. To, basically, “take only what [I] need from it.”

I fear (well, I know) that I have, at (many) times, worn out my emotional welcome with my friends and family. I can take and take and take until I am blue.

And, there’s more.

Maya Angelou said “There is a very fine line between loving life and being greedy for it.”

I have been terribly guilty of the latter.

I know that I have mentioned, in some distant post or posts, the desire I have had in the past to tear my limbs off, rip out my beating heart, explode. Sometimes I’ve felt that way because of the thrill (as I mentioned to some unsuspecting acquaintances while listening to Radiohead’s OK Computer) and sometimes I’ve felt that way out of frustration because my desire for the thrill seemed utterly uncontainable. Either way, I felt trapped by my skin. Hence the need to rip my limbs off. You see, I want to rip off the tail and suck the brains out too.

And, for better or for worse, I have acted on this impulse to just damn feel. Or, not to feel. Or, rather, to feel false feelings while covering up the real ones. Ahhhh! To bite off more life than I can chew. Enough is never enough.

So, restraint?

Maybe we could all use a little lesson in self-control. I can’t be the only one who attempts to drain the very oasis that sustains me. But, whether or not I am the only one is not important. The necessity for me to toss away the pitchfork and start eating life with chopsticks still remains.

So, how to accomplish this? The answer to restraint may well be for me to stop restraining. Restraining my core self that is. In the past, I have not only blamed my skin for entombing me, but have blamed situations and blamed society and blamed others. The reality is that I am the only prison warden. Me. And, me alone. In fear, I may have locked some of myself away and this imprisonment has left me wanting.

One of my favorite faves, Mr. Henry Miller, wrote “Why are we so full of restraint? Why do we not give in all directions? Is it fear of losing ourselves? Until we lose ourselves there is no hope of finding ourselves.”

This seems, and is probably out of context, very Mother Teresa of a man who spent a good deal of his time “follow[ing] a leg or a beautiful bust.” (And, that is really the sweetest way he puts it. He is, if you are unfamiliar with his work, very beautiful, but very crass.)   So, as a man that “dances in the street on an empty belly,” he may not mean giving in the altruistic sense. But, then again, he might.

Regardless, he speaks to the fear of giving one’s self completely. Of opening up. Of shedding the skin of one’s soul only to discover our true self behind those exfoliated layers.

Of course, I am not coming up with anything new here. The key to taking less is giving more. We all know that, but it seems that I need a constant reminder. Love life, but don’t get greedy for it. Give in all directions. Lose yourself. Take only what you need.

So, after I hear Big Sean and Kanye West talking about the “groupies in the lobby… just tryna get established,” inevitably “Kids” will pop on and my mantra will be established. Take only what you need. Take only what you need.

And, if I get discouraged out of perfectionism or selfishness, I can always fall back on the words of Mae West when she said “I like restraint, if it doesn’t go to far.”

Then, I’ll start over again.


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