94. Song No. 1,166: “Bloodless,” Andrew Bird
My Finest Work Yet, 2019
Oh, hey, speaking of how miserable I was at my previous job!
…Turn around and quote a well known psalm
Don’t you worry ’bout the wicked
Don’t you envy those who do wrong
And your innocence will be like the dawn
While the justice of your cause will shine like the noonday sun…
I suppose it’s a matter of taste and opinion whether or not this confidently named album really is the fanciest feather in Andrew Bird’s proverbial hat, but it’s inarguably his most political and packs a walloping, wonderful punch unlike anything else in his catalogue. It is such a treat to find out that musicians I love feel the same way I do about the world and society and are moved by the same things I am, and lyrics that validate all the feelings and thoughts I’ve been grappling with but couldn’t quite give words to are just one of those infinite perks of harmonious perspectives.
But it wasn’t how so many of these songs are holding up an exploratory light to broader society that hit me first: It was the microcosm of my own immediate world and the frustrations they let me belt out during the one-woman show that was my half-hourish commute and the occasional work trip. When this album came out, I didn’t know I was in my final year at a job I stopped enjoying years earlier; it’s a good thing I was because being surrounded by so many (and such vocal, in the way that people who are sure of tomorrow’s sunrise absolutely never are) individuals who stand in fundamental, immovable opposition to everything I think makes a person a decent human bean and having to smile through it to survive one more day was wearing on me in way that I didn’t fully process without a little hindsight and distance and time spent at another job that felt like a homecoming.
Working and dealing with so many business owners as 2015 and everything after pushed me farther left was some mental static and inner dissonance that got harder to reconcile with every hate-fueled post they blithely dispatched into the digital ether or out-of-nowhere dehumanization of and gleeful disdain for anyone whose life experiences differed from theirs or the seamless second nature of calling their employees “human collateral” who they very clearly regarded as both pliable slaves and an absolute financial scourge on their profit margins or who never understood why their staff turnover was so blisteringly high despite an infinite parade of conference sessions and articles suggesting that, like, I dunno, maybe try treating employees like humans? It made dealing with people I otherwise liked feel like some kind of moral hypocrisy and it made people I knew not to trust even harder to share breathing space with for more than five minutes.
By the time this album came out, I had honed my professional social circle well enough that I gratefully glommed onto anyone proven to be someone I either could have a conversation or shared a solid foundation of if not ethics then at least interests with, but surrounding myself with the industry’s best, biggest-hearted and most progressive humans highlighted how vile some of the others really could be and underscored the almost polar contrast between how the majority of them saw the world and how I do. “Don’t envy those who do wrong” started popping up in my head every time I felt myself resenting someone’s fifth vacation of the year and it’s only fucking July, illuminating the glaring reality that anyone can get rich if they’re willing to monetize or manipulate enough people and demand that they stop chasing their own dreams to enable the capitalist empire they should be grateful to serve despite the disparity between the company’s maximum staff expectations and minimum personal return. Assuring as Andrew Bird’s lyrics were and still are, it was and still is exhausting to realize how readily the world rewards that kind of behavior.
Even with friendly faces, mute and unfollow options, and the learned response of hunkering down in my hotel room with a book, some group chats, my iPod and the self-care spoils of room service, having to navigate both industry events and virtual forums left me with such a sense of isolation and melancholy of principles. Absorbing a lot of disturbing diatribes freely shared is a unique kind of grating that only the terminably polite and those hellbent on peace-keeping can really appreciate, I think.
…Well, the best lack all conviction
And the worst keep sharpening their claws
They’re peddling in their dark fictions
While what’s left of us, well, we just hem and we haw…
Music eased that sense of silenced alienation, my role necessitating that I grin and bear all kinds of loose opinions strongly held that made me want to rage-vomit on the spot because holy bejeezus do some fresh takes ever come out already putrified. And after a while, that disconnect between what you believe in the core of your soul and the messages you’re getting slammed with every time you just have to, like, post one thing to the company’s social media sites for chrissake does weird things to your brainspace. Basic human decency isn’t a compromise, and getting desensitized to so many others willingly compromising theirs is a downright criminal normalization. Doubting the severity of your reactions to things that should never be lightly approached or laughingly diminished is a mighty strong blow to your moral convictions, no matter how fundamentally assured but realistically flexible they are.
From my office to my car to to the plane station to an event site, music was an omnipresent shield. Sharing that alignment of humanity with some of my favorite musicians made me feel so much less alone and reminded me that beyond whatever most recent disappointingly immersive moment of industry had me quietly fuming are some amazing people I chose to surround myself with, as best I could professionally and as flawlessly as I did personally and also apparently as accidentally well I managed to music-preferentially, in a delightful echo of what one of the all-time best editors I ever had called the 10-Percent Rule to re-inspire disillusioned journalists: Sure, you hear about the five percent of the worst humanity has to offer, but you also hear about the five percent who are making the biggest contributions to society, too, to say nothing of the 90 percent who just want to live their lives as unobtrusively as they can, for better or worse.
I’ll always be a sucker for songs about the less divisive feelings that comprise the human experience like love and loss and discovery and personal growth, but songs with depth and a message beyond that and that take a stance are things I appreciate far more these days. It’s not immortalizing a zeitgeist: It’s an ode to surviving the now to maybe thrive in the future but let’s just focus on getting there first and find our common ground and common bonds along the way, because no one’s getting anywhere alone and zeroing in on a sense of belonging is one helluvan asset in inspiring a crucial unity of not only cause but also vision for something better we can all have a role in creating.