Updated: Sep 13, 2020
Kindness is unnatural. I don't say that to sound cynical. I say that because I spend a lot of time watching the natural world. You rarely see kindness in nature, and when you do it happens in spite of nature not because of it.
I sometimes despair about the state of the human race. Not because of this kindness thing, though. Human beings are weird animals, because we're capable of the oddest wickedness. That seems to be the main differentiating quality we bring to the mix, our ability to be wicked. Except we invented kindness too. Inconsistency is charming. That's not why I despair about humanity--I don't worry about that.
Dylan Cloud, Psych-Rock Busker
I despair about humanity because on most days you people convince me that there are no more adventurers or inventors. You know who I mean. Anyone in history who we admire because they could not settle for, "We're fine with how things are--nothing needs to change." The formative people in history, basically. People who couldn't bear to leave that hill undiscovered or that horizon unpassed-over. People who couldn't bear not mixing those several chemicals or tinkering together that bunch of gears in a disorderly pile in the corner.
Inventors and adventurers. They got us where we are today, and they were all of them nuts. They had to be. The status was quo, and quo kept people happy.
Well, maybe not happy, but it kept people alive.
Well, maybe not all of them, but it certainly wasn't uncomfortable.
Well, maybe it was uncomfortable, but it didn't have the worrying discomfort of uncertainty, by thunder. And, as everyone knows, uncertainty is the most evil thing in the world! Aside from weak coffee and sour wine. Aside from that, uncertainty! Uncertainty is the devil.
The Trouble With the World Is Comfort
Everyone's comfortable. Comfortable people don't look over past the next hill. Comfortable people don't discover new and strange solutions to old and for-granted-taken problems. Comfortable people do not invent, and they do not go on adventures.
I despair about the human race because of perpetual Netflix-ing and Tempurpedic beds. Who's going to invent a better way to get to Mars if they have a Tempurpedic bed and orthopedic shoes? Everything's something-pedic now. We might want to escape, but how can we find them time? There's just no time. There's no time between the mall and the coffee shop and the ergonomic everything. There's no time to be uncomfortable long enough to develop the requisite fury to invent something.
I despair, because it looks like the human race has tamed any inventing or adventuring desires right out of itself. We are a captive species, made captor by ourselves.
Despair. Pretty easy to despair.
Then I Meet Weird Dudes Like Dylan Cloud
The thing you have to know about Dylan is he lives in a world inclined to reward clever things. When we can find them, we reward anything that breaks up the monotony of the epidemic of comfort. In this world, he does everything wrong.
That's one of the six highest compliments I can pay anyone. It's right up there with, "I like your garlic skills." It's right up there with, "You remind me of a young Don Rickles or an old Lenny Bruce." Dylan is one of these cats you could describe as "unfairly talented--we should totally assassinate him." That's a quote I'm paraphrasing. It's from his family, so you know it's true.
He's a Musician With Good Hair. People Like Those.
There's a low bar of entry when you're talking about listening to a musician. If you're a musician and you want to make friends at parties and keep being a musician you're pretty much set. It's not like some other hobbies, like being an aficionado of Anglo-Saxon poetry or a tarantula tamer. Those don't go over at parties as well. In terms of fitting in and making friends, musician is right near the top. He does play harmonica, but I don't think that's fair to hold against him.
And a musician is what Dylan says he'd like to be when he grows up. It sounds like he's been on this course for a lot of his life. He named his dog Zeppelin, and he's been listening to Led Zeppelin since he was five. Too early, I think, but my dad thought that Acid Eaters was a good album to play for me when I was five. I can't talk.
Dylan's one of these dudes who decides to pick up and start learning a new instrument every now and then. He knows guitar, and he knows harmonica, and he's learning mandolin and I don't know what all else.
One way of interpreting the story is that he's maximizing his chances of having tools for making friends and influencing people. His mom's in the industry. If he wants to be a musician all he would need to do, hypothetically, is keep showing up. If he shows up often enough with his harmonica and his mandolin, eventually it'll just be assumed that he's a musician.
Dream achieved. Mission accomplished. Why are we talking?
Because Dylan's a Weird Dude, That's Why
I asked Dylan if he had anything to say to the people at home. I'm learning how to be a proper rock and roll journalist. I'm remembering to ask these dudes if they have anything in particular they'd like to talk about. Because that's what David Lettermen would ask people. Not in those words, but he would get to the subject. The crunchy-haired, tanned-leather-faced star would recite the two sentences about their upcoming movie, and we'd watch a clip. They stole it from the TV spot last commercial break. We're bored because we saw it five seconds ago. But the contractual obligation has been completed. Everyone goes home. The audience continues their lives with a vague awareness that they have a harmless option for that date they have in two weeks.
I'm like that. I'm a professional. I remember that this is a forum. Part of its power is to make you, the reader, aware of the hot gigs to catch in the next few weeks. One of them may feature Dylan Cloud.
It Will. He's a Working Musician.
Only I don't know anything about it. I asked if he wanted to say anything to the kids at home, Dylan had a different and specific message for you.
A message familiar from a famous musical act from another time.
We talked for a while about it, but what Dylan had to say was, "Be excellent to each other." Basically, we talked about the Golden Rule. The Golden Rule is a philosophical concepts on the list of evidence that there might be such a thing as The Common Human Experience. It's a serves as its own proof of concept. In order to work, the Golden Rule carries the weight of understanding that kindness is universal (in spite of being unnatural). We should be kind to others because they want kindness as much as we do. Every culture invented the concept of the Golden Rule with no interdepartmental discussion. Because everyone invented the same concept separately, it suggests there is such a thing as a common human experience.
We should be kind to each other.
That's what Dylan said. Be excellent to each other.
So freaking do that, you over-comfortable bunch of dudes.
Dylan will find a genre he fits. It's inevitable. He's persistent. At the moment, he says he'd like to play in a genre called psych-rock. An example of which kind of music is the band Radio Moscow. It's a wicked genre. It's sort of like if punk stopped sniffing glue and figured out how to add a few tools but didn't lose its soul. Or it's like if prog-rock frayed at the edges a little more. Or if arena rock had to do small gigs with cheaper gear. It's an intersectional genre, which means there's a lot of space for exploration in it.
Remember what I said about inventing and adventuring before? You thought I wasn't going to get back to it, but I am now.
When I spoke to him, our conversation started with Led Zeppelin. I suggested that, since Dylan was a multi-instrumentalist, that he should become the world's first one-man band in the metal genre. Which would be hard on his knees, I guess. Buskers rig their drum kit to their legs and the double-bass can get a little hectic. In spite of that, I think the idea has potential.
I talked about that to Dylan. He said that one of the most exciting ideas to him as a musician was the idea of busker style music.
Busker. Street Performer.
Okay, easy. Busker as a musician: often plays one instrument. You see them downtown on the saxophone or guitar or something, putting their hat on the curb and entertaining the street.
More interesting if the kind of music you like to perform requires a band.
Enter the old image of the one-man-band. They have the drum on their back. There's a harmonic on that arm on their chest. They've got their guitar. And they're out of tune, but they're having a good time.
Or, enter the inventor.
Dylan put me onto this dude called Shakey Graves. Shakey's the kind of guy who I like: clever songwriter, stripped-down sound, good voice.
And, it turns out, he's an inventor. His early albums sound like it's him and like two dudes playing some folksy, bluesy rock and roll. Only a few instruments, but that's what I like: intimate. A couple guys on stage.
Turns out it's just him. Shakey Graves plays with himself.
Not like that. Clean your mind out with soap. But he plays with himself in the sense that he's the one musician on stage.
The way he achieves it is through the use of a one-of-a-kind instrument that he invented.
Hey! It comes back around.
The Inventors May Save Us All
We're all unhappy. You may have noticed. It's a result of global communication. Things are shit here, but at least the people over there are having a good time.
Now, we have an instant feed to, like, the world. My girlfriend's mom watches a live feed from a Cambodian monkey preserve every day. We're connected to everywhere. Seeing that we're connected to everywhere, the illusion that at least SOMEONE SOMEWHERE is happy has been shattered. We are all aware of how much everyone else is as unhappy as us. It's been the end of the last hope we had that the human race is happy.
And at the same time we're in the most comfortable epoch of existence we've experienced.
Something's going on there. We have no right to be as comfortable and over-fed as we are and be catty to our fellow human at any time. You know, we have a bad hair day and take it out on the server at the restaurant. It's ludicrous. We should be the happiest we've ever been.
But we're not.
Of course I despair, because in spite of a global epidemic of unhappiness, the human race seems too comfortable to do anything about it. There was an instinct to force growth and change in those inventors and explorers who brought us things like penicillin and Belgium. And it looks, to me, like we've bred that instinct out of the species.
So I despair.
Until I meet weird dudes like Dylan Cloud. Dylan Cloud, who was asked if he had something to say to the people at home and said, we could be more kind. Dylan Cloud, who has a crush on an inventor.
Some days it's easy to give into despair. Other days, it looks like you can't breed inventors and adventurers out of the species.
Kindness is unnatural, which is the reason it's important. It had to be invented by someone weird who saw things that most of us couldn't see.
If you get Dylan a drink, he likes beer. Make sure he's got a solid surface nearby, though. None of these soft-top stools.