February 15, 2014

If the False Self Could Sing: Art With Neko Case

Oh, I would never do that!

To this a good psychologist might ask, "And just who is this I?"

Is the "I" not that which we wish to show to the world? That image of smart, strong, moral, sexually proficient - whatever it is - we are preserving, creation of our own hands, to illicit the response we want most desperately from people? Say, respect or admiration.

As necessary as that is at some level, the "I" has an issue with honesty. This is because it's proficient in lying. It's not that the "I" isn't strong or smart or hip or whatever at times. What's false is the uniformity. There's more. There's a surplus to the "I" we present to the world. These other selves (of ourselves). Which forever haunt our nice and pretty images like ghosts on strings.

And this is where we get into trouble because the fortress of our "I" doesn't have extra room (or time!) for loose, wandering selves. "We're running a tight campaign here, people! Anything that doesn't fit with our agenda - our image - must be thrown into the dungeon! Capiche?!"

What happens is the parts of ourselves that don't line up with how we want to be seen get the shaft and get roped down in the dark depths of our unconscious, rarely, if ever, to see the light of day, except of coarse by mistake (Freudian slips, etc.), so as to leave the parts in the limelight untainted. Let's face it: we all do this.

People, though, are these other parts and that's important. Repressing them only makes matters worse. A perfect and primmer image often means imminent breakdown, which, psychologically, is really good. This fortress, castle, and self-created image is what Thomas Merton and Richard Rohr and David Benner would all call the False Self.

One of the absolute worse things you could do to your False Self is to be honest. Being honest about all the parts of yourself, but particularly the parts you've hidden away, out of sight, out of mind, because they don't look good with the image you've become obsessed with maintaining, begins the dismantling of the image and the journey toward genuine change.

Try it. When quiet and alone, sit down and openly and sincerely invite all the parts of yourself to get together, no matter who might show up. Like an AA meeting of sorts. This will probably take loads of time, and several tries to get everyone there. Having removed all filters, corporate political agendas, and other truth inhibitors, hand the microphone around and give voice to everyone present. Let them introduce themselves and share a little of their testimony. Listen up.

Maturity: giving opportunity for the beautiful in us, as well as the disfigured and downright absurd, to speak and to sing.

All this really annoying talk of psychology and spiritual formation has got me thinking about my favorite musician at the moment, believe it or not.

On ANTI Record's website, I started searching for tantalizing new music to send chills tap-dancing down my spine. Or just something that didn't suck, something better than, say, Chumbawamba. Cake for a record label with the brains to sign brilliant musical artists such as Sean Rowe, Mavis Staples, The Milk Carton Kids, and Saintseneca.

I clicked Neko Case.

I'd seen that name before, but now I had her cover art staring at me, which I found weird. She's running, with sword in hand, toward three sketchy els. What an oddball. The album is called The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You. Plus, she's from Tacoma, Washington (where I live). What's not to love?

I bought the album eventually, having only heard two tracks. Shit, it's good. I was surprised. A country twang here. Lyrical swag there. Sometimes bold and haunting. Always alternative. Some melodies are lovely and arresting. Others almost make me want to skip the track.

But it's that very element I find so alluring in Neko Case. It's her difference. Her multifacetedness. (If I can make up a word!) Her ability to pull out the charming and unnatural. Her album lacks shallow uniformity.

If the False Self could sing it'd belt out its baritone as a created image, as a neat and tidy, all-together and presentable "work of art." The False Self cares too much about how it looks to its audience in order to make good and honest music. And oh how it loves its audience! (What's stupid, though, is I don't know if Neko Case is writing music freed from image. It's impossible to say since an individual living as a False Self is usually unaware themselves of this very fact! Her album could end up being the very manifestation of a False Self, although I don't believe so. All I know is her stupid album has got me thinking too damn much.)

It seems to me that good, mature songwriting takes place after one couldn't care less about the False Self and all image-making and maintaining. This kind of music would be honest above all else, giving voice to whatever there was to give voice to, the lovely and beautiful, the odd and absurd. No filters. No agendas. Just great music.

Go listen to Neko Case to see what I mean (or this will forever remain incoherent babble). And might she be our soundtrack to writing, painting, and dancing after having given our ears to the hidden and suppressed, odd and absurd selves of ourselves.

Be honest.