61. Song No. 541: “Art is Hard,” Cursive
The Ugly Organ, 2003
Cursive was one of those bands I really tried to get into but only wound up digging on, like, one album. They were always just a little too much for my taste but when it worked, I was super into it.
The Ugly Organ is far more hits than misses for me, and I think the inherent moodiness of being a winter album helps soften, or at least contextualize, a lot of its more jagged edges. Like, the more I think about it, the more fondly I recall this album.
“Art is Hard” always separated itself from pack in this concept album that hit a little too close to home during that winter break I drove around South Jersey in search of any friendly escape I could find, my Discman helpfully supplying the overwrought soundtrack that my least favorite season and six long-slog weeks away from college demanded.
My shamelessly romanticized love for the starving-artist bohemian lifestyle I thought an impecunious though supportive-enough-to-afford-city-rent writing career had waiting for me had started rising up to meet my disdain for “my” bands selling out all in the name of choosing profit over passion, and this album verbalized so much of what I only knew how to feel but had no idea how to say. This song in particular highlighted how inorganic monetizing feelings and talents really was, how even the best art might start out as a genuine expression of something worth celebrating but the gaping maw of the capitalist machine has a way of inelegantly reworking it into something more marketable but less honest.
What’s more, listening to this song as someone who’s made a career out of words for nearly 15 years has a whole new and incredibly literal meaning that College Me never could have seen coming. Choosing a career and a focus with absolutely no prescribed, linear constant to direct the creative process makes for its own frustrations, and there are days when the writer’s block and the inability to finesse language makes for some truly deafening, indecipherable inner chaos where every sentence is a struggle. Art is fucking hard, man, and not enough people understand the nuances that make reconciling the need for a steady paycheck with the path of least resistance/most harmonious compromise between the head and the heart a uniquely maddeningly and equally rewarding life to be chosen by.