Sunday, May 23, 2010

The National are America's Nostalgia, Sadness, Frustrations and Failures

Raymond Carver once wrote, “"What good are insights? They only make things worse." Listening to The National confirms that with a true American feel. We have spent nearly the last twenty years searching for a band whose sound and lyrical power could describe the modern American experience. Not since Nirvana has a band’s sound so completely encompassed such a large group of people.

Funny that no one really knows whom they are and that their music doesn’t play on MTV. There is a reason for that, see The National are not tailor made for the young generation. No, they are for the generation of people who have left their youth behind, the ones that search for meaning in the hours between leaving the office and falling asleep. They are the band for the foreclosed, the bankrupt, the failed in love and the stoic, softly glazed glance at a half of face hidden in a mirror behind a line of bottles.

With lyrics like, sorrow found me when I was young / sorrow waited and sorrow won and a little more stupid, a little more scared / every minute more unprepared. They insist on loss, late night, glaring lights, blurred vision and all in the deep textured baritone of lead singer Matt Berninger.

What’s more surprising is last night at The Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles they filled a big room. A big room there to hear them, the headliners and they philosophized about loss, love, liquor and long winter nights. And standing there wondering what all these upper middle class hipsters were doing standing around listening were finding in the music. With a literary scene that has become overly cute with meta-narratives and wildly imaginative investigations of eastern European family trees, I realized that people were still seeking out pure Americana. And then it hit me, The National are America's nostalgia, sadness, frustrations and failures.

They are instinctively an American band, two guitars and a piano. They have a violin and drummer whose hits shake the room. The lyrics are literary and dreamy. They are indeed about loss and love. They are about a search for something. And maybe, maybe just maybe, the iPod, Blackberry, laptop, interweb scene is a little lost on what their bodies, their minds and their words are for. Maybe, just maybe, they need someone to remind them how low they could sink, how important flesh and blood and hate and sorrow are. Because, in the lyrics and the albums they create a litany of broken desperation woven into an American night.

And I'll try to find somethin' on this thing that means nothin' enough, is the lyric that leads into the chorus of Lemon World off the new album, High Violet.

And the great American short story writer Raymond Carver wrote: "life was a stone cutting and grinding..."

Perhaps The National have more in common with the great American Literary Voices then they do with modern pop music. Troubadours whose songs transport us to rural areas rainslicked and lonely, a bar room drama unfolding in a lonesome and desperate American night.

~ Craig A. Platt


1 comment:

  1. I couldn't agree more with most everything you've said here. We had the great fortune of seeing them three times post-Boxer and it's really most of what we listened to for the better part of a year.
    "Turn the lights out, say goodnight. No thinking for a little while. Let's not try to figure out everything at once." I think this was my wife's most important bit of wisdom while she was pregnant and her insomniac mind raced every night.
    And the absurd proclamation of self-esteem of "All The Wine"... and the truest lyrics we must have all experienced in "About Today."
    Try to find (I'll get the name wrong) The National at the UN (video).