On Apathy

By Kelly Ginger

Saturday came and I spent a good portion of it not getting out of bed.  I find myself more often tired than awake.  Told a friend I’d go to her event at 4.  Didn’t make it.  Told another I’d see him at 7.  I canceled.  Then I told him maybe, or I would see what I could do.  I ended up going.
All a matter of process.

Once in Manhattan, I waited for him to get off work.  It was that cloudy day a few weeks ago with the snow/rain hybrid sort of beast.  We walked from Bleecker to the J train at Bowery, knocking umbrellas with each clod and pea brain unable to notice the oncoming foot traffic.
“So, why are you depressed?” he asked.  No idea.  As it turns out, he thought I had “things together.”  We worked together in the coffee business.  My answer came quickly; it is easier to smile if you’re not thinking to intensely about the four-dollar lattes you’re frothing and just do.  It’s easier to not think about the futility of mopping if you wipe faster, harder.
He told me about a recent breakup.  Those things have been known to send one into that cavity known as the unknown, the void.  My own reason for not getting out of bed seems similar, without the direct cause.  Mostly, I stayed quiet and listened.  It’s the lack of clarity and that string of reasons that are the most sour.
We drank at some hole or two, GGI movies playing on a big screen.  Five-dollar can of Schlitz and a shot of well whiskey.  I drank sips of the beer from the shot glass.  I’m pretty sure a Heart song played.  Both of the bartenders had beards, black band shirts, and tattoos.  It felt absurd, like some elaborate joke.  Two twenty-somethings walk into a bar in north Brooklyn.
Plans shifted to a show that included bands with names like “Fuck School”.  It got me thinking about apathy – how it can be an answer.  A festival of cheap beer and basement shows.  I wondered what would happen to all of these people.  I knew their current (physical) location, but the rest of their existence puzzled me.
What happened to all the berets in some smoky Lower East Side basement jazz club?  What happened to all the headbands in the sunny parks of Haight-Ashbury?
It all seemed very similar to those histories from my position, my back against a wall, watching two men in cardboard hats thrash to their laptops set on shopping carts.  But something still felt unclear.
It was unclear for awhile, and perhaps is still just beyond the door.  The only thing that makes any sense is that this (the shows, the hats, the noise) is a response to something.  When I started to write this article I kept asking myself what that might be, and how it ended up to be that this was what ended up making the most sense.  It seems like a good enough alternative, but mostly I just wanted to know what these people look for. That would answer the “why this”, so it would be half way to resolution.  What did they find?
During one set, a young synth player/singer coolly said, “this song is about suicide.”  I was interested enough, a sort of throw back to Joy Division it seemed.  The chores is the only thing I remember of the words: “I found a guide/it told me how to commit suicide.”  He trashed about a bit and a few people watched.  Most of the time the audience stood around talking and hugging (this is where some meaning can be found).  Other looked into their beer cans, the ends of their cigarettes, their shoes.  The old reliable:  a love/hate relationship with life and living it, romanticizeing the madly tortured artist.
These are the people I am concerned about because it seems the most alluring.  Of course people go to shows to experience music, to feel something or meditate, to be with friends (or/and support friends), but could that be the others?  There was something about some of the audience members that seemed very apathetic, which seems very prevalent in modern music (and especially the noise scene).   Perhaps it is caused by the risk and uncertainty involved in emotional expression.   What if I like the wrong band?  Or even like them the wrong way?  And with drinking, accountability for any expression dies.  Why would it matter if I throw a beer can into the crowd if tomorrow all anyone says is “wow, you were drunk last night.”
These responses feel so common – black out and make sure you’re not expressing, or better yet, don’t experience anything.  How is it different than the suburban housewife alone on her cul-de-sac with the television blaring?  She’s alone and tuned out, blacked out if a nap comes.  So then, that get’s to my next question: Why this particular response?  It seems just as varied as the first.  If I solved all these I think no one would need therapy.  But fire is the point anyway.  Kerouac said, “The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn…”
That’s it.  We needed fiery madness then just as we need it now.  Not bored madness, android madness, black out madness.
Tonight I gave another listen to the Woods album How to Survive in – In the Woods for old time’s sake.  I figured it would be a good album to make me finish this article, since they are involved in the particular north Brooklyn scene mentioned here.  And just like old times I could sing all of the words, but this time I was really listening to the songs about the lackluster logic of youth (“ here the girls all look the same / and boys all carry on like all the beer and liquor would go to waste if they were gone. / So I make my way to black rock / on the seven forty train…”) and apathy (“Waking up in the nighttime/just to forget about the morning’/and that’s alright/ yeah that’s alright…”).  Only, the last song (“Make Time for Kitty”) isn’t apathetic, but perhaps the speaker is depressed.  How do these two emotions differ and how do I; am I apathetic?  No.  I want to burn, but sometimes my flame lies low.  Everyone’s does.  Kerouac’s did.  It is important to not go out.  To see the beauty, not tune out with apathy.  Feel as much as you can.  The song continues, “Kitties belly rumbles / it’s time to start our day / …with a head butt to the door it’s time to play / make time for kitty every day.”  The playfulness of the song even embarrassed me a bit.  Thought maybe it was another one of those moments where my youth did not age well.  Then I saw the connection to apathy, what I had been missing out on all along, and I smiled, then came home and sang a song to my cat, like I usually do.