“Artificial Light” by Rainer Maria

62. Song No. 545: “Artificial Light,” Rainer Maria
A Better Version of Me, 2001

I love this band, never mind their tendency to throw in an absolute clunker of a lyric into a song I otherwise absolutely adore (looking at you, “Life of Leisure”).

There are… not a lot of female solo artists or woman-fronted bands I gravitate to, and it’s become painfully clear the more I dig into the 91.3 gigs of male-dominated music calling Slothrop the iPod home. But Rainer Maria is one band I have adored for decades now, their literary moniker certainly helping their cause.

“Artificial Light” is much more muted, even-keel and sans-hook than I usually prefer my music, but its decidedly Luddite-tinged attitude resonates with me and my own reluctance to rely on technology to do what I can to maintain my autonomy and deepen my physical understanding of the world around me.

Its real charm, though, comes from a lyric that I misheard once as “Maybe you try to be pretty instead of kind” and will forever be cemented as such in my head. I mean, of course that moment of “Huh, maybe female musicians understand where I’m coming from better than male ones who sing about women as obsessions and possessions” obviously was a fleeting one but it’s probably a perfect encapsulation of some kind of self-loathing or deliberate denial of awareness I’ve been carrying around since before my formative years.

I’ve thought about that line a lot over the years and the number of times when being reduced to my looks was easier than asserting my personality or thoughts, or when I was shown preferential treatment for my outward appearance instead of the heart and character I’d rather be judged by and that were a lot harder to retrain into better versions of themselves than it takes to slap on a coat of makeup for a slightly easier ride.

The way I heard it made the artificial light analogy mean a little neater and more significant for me. The controlled and flattering perspective that technology filters our lives through and the superficial image that we make a substitute reality conspire against our unseen truths, eclipsing the things that really matter and needlessly minimizing them when it’s the messier, more genuine parts that we should be bringing into the sunlight of common-ground connection. Anyone can snap a flawless selfie: Show me the creased, insightfully rerouted road map faded with age and experience that led you through an inner landscape fraught with change and dead-ends that led you to the truth you’ve molded your current self around. That’s where the real stuff and the most honest connections are forged.

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