Wanna develop an obsession with death? Create a life.
At some point after my daughter was born — I think a few weeks after — it sunk in that I’d just created something that it’s my duty to ensure outlives me. From a zoomed-out, biological perspective, it’s like “Duh, that’s the point of genes and stuff” but on a personal level, it was a weighty epiphany. I’m not an architect who designs buildings, so I can’t point to some big thing in the physical world that will still be there when I’m gone. You could say (and many have said) that writing is an attempt to create something that endures after death, but if someone were to pull the plug on WordPress/Tumblr’s servers, 98% of everything I’ve written in my life would vanish in an ebbing tide of electricity.
Baby YHT, though — she needs to keep going. Not because I think my genes are superior and the world desperately needs them (my wife’s genes, maybe), but because Mrs. YHT and I brought our daughter into this world, and it’s our job to make sure she lives a long, happy and fulfilling life. When Baby YHT cries, it’s hard not to think “Damn. I did this to you” regardless of what’s upsetting her. It’s a little like that moment in teen movies (I can’t think of an example right now, but I’m sure I’ve seen it) when characters at a sleepover take painstaking steps to summon a ghost, and when the ghost appears, they get this scared and guilty look on their faces that says “Ok, what now?”
My dad didn’t like to talk about death. Even near the end, he had a hard time talking about dying and the necessary arrangements, and he and I never had a final heart-to-heart. That’s partly because I didn’t spend enough time at home when he was sick, and partly because the cancer in his brain affected his ability to speak, but I know from conversations with my mom that he had little interest in talking about what was happening. I can’t blame him — I wasn’t in his shoes and it’s impossible to know how you’ll react to death until you’re staring it in the face — but I’d really like to be different.
Maybe it’s morbid, but I think about death all the time. I live with it. I think about how I can be healthier, so I can see my daughter grow up to be older than I was when my dad died. I think about the family members and friends I love and how much time I’ll have with them. I don’t want death to be the elephant in the room — I want to shrink it by feeding it the attention and respect it deserves so that, eventually, it’ll be just as small and cosmically insignificant as I am. Or, better yet, something I can welcome when the universe decides the time is right.
I think that’s why I’m so excited about this Flying Lotus album. Musically, I’m enjoying it for a number of lighter reasons. I like that it reminds me of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, and I like that it jumps around and serves as evidence that an idea doesn’t need to be stretched out across three and a half minutes to be considered a complete, valid thought. Kendrick Lamar’s appearance is fantastic, and Herbie Hancock’s involvement adds gravitas and grounds the album solidly in the jazz realm, which makes me happy because that’s how I read it before I heard that Hancock had contributed.
But the major rush of affinity came when I heard Flying Lotus interviewed on NPR and found out how intentional he was about the album’s themes. (In this case, context is everything.) Hearing that the album’s title is just the tip of the iceberg, and that the start of the first track is meant to represent to the moments after you die — You’re Dead stopped being an interesting and pleasing album and became something that recent events have made absolutely vital.
I don’t need to believe that something magical — or anything — happens after I die, but that warm swell in the opening moments of “Theme” lend hope to the notion that the moments before my own death will involve emotions that feel as good as that soupy drone sounds, if that makes any sense.
I hope this isn’t bumming you out, because You’re Dead is fantastic for all sorts of other reasons — give “Coronus, The Terminator” a listen below and click here to buy the album on iTunes.