No one ever accused me of feeling in moderation. If you think I am apathetic it’s only because in that moment I’m feeling another emotion just as strongly if not more so. Thus when The National decided to release a limited edition vinyl box set of their six hour performance repeating one of my all time favorite songs over and over and over and over again, I never thought twice. This was not one of my normal trappings, an impulse buy to be second guessed at a later date. This was something I needed, as sure as the water needs the clouds. As sure as it needs the rain. It is one of those things that hardly anyone understands about me, something I try to explain but end up falling short every time. Just try to understand that this band, this song, this box set makes me whole.
I want to say right now that a project consisting of “Sorrow” sung 105 times in a row at the MoMA in New York with Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson is pretty darned hipster as all hell. Even the band called the idea “artsy-fartsy” and the New York Times called it an unimaginable and dangerous act. I’m not going to lie to your face and tell you this is a record everyone needs to hear. What I will try to persuade you of is the idea that performance and endurance art can be powerfully beautiful. If it’s not something that appeals to you, at the very least acknowledge and respect the idea. Go ahead! Take a paltry look at seven minutes of the six hour effort:
Those are only 2 of the 105 iterations of the song. It’s very hypnotic and lends itself easily to multiple repeat listens. I initially thought that a live blog update would be appropriate, but that idea has been done. My writing is not prone to the quick update, but rather the drawn out thought process. It is something that I enjoy dwelling on, because then I am at my most genuine and most adequate. So I suppose I’ll do a combination of both.
I began this post when I started to cry at the first notes. As soon as it began I knew I had to write/type/anything to unleash the feelings within me. I struggled to pull the disc out of the sleeve; it is clear and has both a plastic square sleeve and round, harder plastic protector. I am now on the second side and I think I should start to take the second disc out of it’s cocoon since the first one was a bit of a challenge. Hold on! It’s a little over halfway on side B and they changed it up! Because this is so repetitive every slight change feels monumental and sounds really amazing. It’s like having mini solos and it really succeeds in keeping the listeners attention.
I have to admit, I am not even done hearing the second vinyl disc (of nine), and my attention is starting to wane. Naali, my dog, asked me to go out and I gladly obliged. There were two squirrels eating the bird suet and Naali straight up bolted. I smiled at her exuberance, and while I heard it constantly in the background, I returned my full attention to “Sorrow” with the joy of running free.
Side D: I wonder what it was like to see this live. You’re right, Matt Berninger, I don’t want to get over you.
My sister called and I ended up talking about Asberger’s for a long while. She’s currently working at a camp with children who have the syndrome, and it is very intense. It made me wonder about social constructs and about how we separate non-verbal communication from “normal” conversation. Furthermore, what makes for boring conversation at all? Is it just our personal perception? This side E is much more stripped down and truly beautiful.
Side F: This is crazy nuts. This is a frigging band playing the same song over and over and over again. BUT DONT LEAVE MY HYPER HEART ALONE. I will never get over you. Oooooooooooooooooooooo….. They are super changing it up now!!!! I love it. Sorrow will always wait, and Sorrow will always win.
The best thing about live music is that it is the most perfect way to experience it. The band/musician/orchestra performs the music directly to you and then it’s gone. Even if you were to grab a recording it still is not the same as being there. Having something, however, is better than nothing, and the primary purpose of live recordings is so we can live vicariously through them. Trying to relive the memories or pretend that we were there.
A Lot of Sorrow is not like this. By repeating the same song over and over again for six hours it feels real. I committed to the whole thing and by the end, I could probably lie with a straight face and say I was in New York for the performance. I feel like an initiated, like I belong in an exclusive club. Which I’m sure I am. Not too many people can say they have set aside a fourth of their day and listened to this record. The exclusivity is part of the appeal, but that is too cynical for me. This box set is more than just a bargaining chip.
The pure, blissful and cathartic qualities of this song are magnified to the point where it feels like I’m standing on a beach with my feet in the sand. Six hours of “Sorrow” isn’t a tsunami, it’s 105 perfect waves hitting the land and then gently pushing and pulling sand around my toes. Repetitive yet immeasurably pleasurable stimulus constantly bordering on transcendental ecstasy.
We’re going to do one encore tonight, this one’s called ‘Sorrow.’