Jeffrey Lewis misses the mark in new comic strip
In each piece he tells the story of his song âAnxiety Attack,â which since its 2005 release grew from small potatoes to a minor viral phenomenon, receiving severalÂ musicÂ video interpretations, all by basement filmmakers totally unaffiliated with Jeffrey Lewis. Together these videos amassed tens of thousands of YouTube views.
For Lewis, the moral of this story is that people have identified with his message. In the comic strip he asks: âIs there something particular to being attacked by personal demons that brings people together?â And in his essay he says âAnxiety Attackâ is proof that songwriters should focus more on everyday problems, like being âoverweight and underpaid,â rather than the comfortable lifestyle enjoyed by most popular musicians.
Lewisâs argument is interesting, but he has perhaps misinterpreted his own success. While his feelings expressed in the song (e.g. âWhat if I wasted my whole life?â and âHow come I get nothing done but always feel so busy?â) certainly represent the self-doubt thatâs pandemic in our modern America, he cannot attribute the songâs entire popularity to relatable lyrics. It has a nice melody, too. Lewis asks whether there would be âa similar breakthrough if [he] wrote a song about diabetes, or erectile dysfunctionâ; and one might reply, âSureâif itâs catchy enough.â
In fact, taking that counterargument further, we might even say that music is useful precisely because it draws us to ideas we might not otherwise consider. For example: the We Are the World Foundation made âWe Are the World 25 for Haiti,” and thereby drew huge amounts of views (nearly 100 million as of this writing) to the 2010 Haitian earthquake relief efforts. For another example: So many classic songs are written about people to whom we almost definitely cannot relate. The Doorsâ âThe Endâ is about a man who kills his whole family and then has sex with his mother. We can relate to this deeply twisted Oedipal scenario because the frantic rhythmic drive pulls us into the protagonistâs mania.
Perhaps because we are a heavily text-oriented society, we tend to reduce music to its literary component, and think about little else when evaluating the meaning or value of a piece. But music is not poetry. When we talk about music, we have to talk about music. We have to think about why music in particular is such a useful medium.