Microphones in 2020
The true state of all things: I keep on not dying, the sun keeps on rising. I remember my life as if it's just some dreams that I don't trust, burning off, layered thick, a cargo that I haul, wounds and loves unresolved. I wake up with the sun in my eyes. The present moment tries but now I'm back where I was when I was 20, crashing through salal alone and mumbling, one moment thinking I'm wise and in the next one I writhe, trying to re-remind myself of something learned then forgotten. Countless sunrises burying the things I'd figured out the day before. Like that I probably won't find shelter in the arms of any other person though I will try. Again I'll deny the blanketing sky, the thing I just realized for probably the millionth time, that walking with my knees trembling is the true state of all things. The true state of all things is a waterfall with no bottom crashing end and no ledge to plummet off full of debris and flowers, never not falling, and in it we swim and fall. Sometimes beside, often apart. It's just chaos heaving. I wake up with the sun in my eyes beneath present moment skies, squinting and wondering how I got here. Going through the contents of my backpack, shaking out the dust to bring some empty space back, filling a long merch table with artifacts, looking back to see if I could draw a map that leads to now. I remember where I was when I was 20 or 17 or 23. The disinterested sun would still rise every morning same as now. Dawn was loud. I took my breakfast to the couch on the porch of the punk house. Coffee and low tide smell and my life stretching out. Spending hours each morning reading poems and staring off and then snapping back to urgency, I did my dishes then I would sprint to the studio again. Spend all day and night digging in, distorted bass, spliced tape, singing lines like there's no end and I won't look for you in my room about my friends. I checked email@example.com like once a week. I would drive out to the ocean and not tell anybody. I watched Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in a dollar theater in Aberdeen. It was a rainy matinee 2001, Sunday, March 18th, and in the parking lot afterward for a few minutes in the rain I stood glowing with ideas of what I might try to convey with this music. At that moment my mind flashing like a blade. A 22 year old in flip flops running around in an empty mall parking lot lost in a martial arts fantasy, it looks ridiculous now but the truth is: alone there something was formed. The way they held themselves upright with tea in the opening scenes, a warm formality, spines straight and feet planted wide, un-tip-over-able like the bamboo'd undulating hills, walking slowly, making eye contact, gliding, the sound of empty wind when they sword-fought weightless in the bamboo with a purity of heart that transcends gravity leaping off the mountain into ambiguity falling slow as the end credits rolled. I decided I would try to make music that contained this deeper peace buried underneath distorted bass, fog imbued with light and emptiness, I kept on driving out to the ocean. It was raining so hard, I was wet wool caked with sand. I watched the dunes migrate slowly. Lost mind in the tall grass Slowly the sound of roaring waves returned. I rose. I returned to my station wagon with a wet face. Extravagant solitude invigorates. I drove back to Olympia clear headed temporarily and went back into the studio to resume whatever this thing is: this spooling out repetitive decades-long song string, this river coursing through my life, these wild swipes at meaning. Now I circle back to look into the spring. When I was 17 it was 1995. I put the name Microphones on the tapes I would make late at night after work at the record store. I was already by then a couple years deep into this weird pursuit playing drums, copying lyrics out to hang them in my room until I started making my own embarrassing early tries at this thing that sings at night above the house, branches in the wind bending wordlessly. I wanted to capture it on tape. At first I called my recordings a different name. I called it the Microphones on the 3rd cassette I made. I loved recording and the equipment seemed to be living and it sang to me like static interference from the small AM radio station down the street, night in Anacortes in the mid 90's, oil tankers rumbling. I stayed late recording every night then I drove back to my parents' house. My headlights through the trees along Heart Lake Road, Winding down the dark slope beneath Mount Erie, I was already who I am: a bottle of india ink, masking tape, a cardboard box of dubbed cassettes, Julie Doiron, Tori Amos, Cranberries, Sinead O'Connor, Eric's Trip, Red House Painters, Sonic Youth, This Mortal Coil, Kurt Cobain had died. I had my driver's license and a girlfriend and we'd cling to each other and dream that anything's permanent. Even back then the beast of uninvited change insisted itself in, and look here it still hangs but when I was young I'd go driving in the rain. I saw Stereolab in Bellingham and they played one chord for fifteen minutes. Something in me shifted. I brought back home belief I could create eternity. Leaning the guitar up on the amp, taping down organ keys, feeding back forever, distorted waves of cymbals oceany. Slowly starting to try to move the words beyond mere melancholy into something that rings true and old and useful hopefully, but when I was 17 I sang in the moment hurt romantically, grasping in the dark, like shadows of the moon on the back of the car seat where she sat once. It's not that bad but I know I wanted to go deeper, beneath pain, beneath the human. Is it because my parents barely had any money and preferred to leave the baby in the garden that I grew up to blur the boundary between myself and the actual churning dirt of this place, that it feels normal to me to speak with the voice of weather, to build and move into a mirage made of songs cascading down a rock face in a homemade myth? Even deeper back into the mist: when I was 12 or 13 on a family trip we hiked down a steep bluff to an ocean beach in whipping rain. My little brother's clothes got wet from playing in the winter waves. My parents made a fire of smokey driftwood and we huddled in and took his wet clothes off and held him naked above the flames. Smelling like smoke and salt on the drive home, surely this experience explains something about whoever it was that sang all these songs. When you're younger every single thing vibrates with significance. Gazing at the details in the artwork of a 7, devouring every word in a zine, there was barely internet. Meaning gets attributed wherever appetite bestows a thing with resonating glowing ringing out through a life. What from these times do I carry with me still? The things I survive return repeatedly and I find again that I am a newborn every time. When I wake alone in the dark again I swim out into the lake of the heart and in. When I got back to Olympia from the ocean I woke up early before dawn to start recording. The things I wanted to communicate had to do with finding how to break out from seeing only the inside of reflected ocean on the sky. It was early 2001 and I was almost 23. I'd finished recording the Glow pt. 2 and I was either always on tour or setting up a tour, always running, voracious, thirsty. I'd go out to the lake with friends, swim out to the middle and dive as far as I could down to where the water gets cold, with open eyes. We'd go up on the roof at night and actually contemplate the moon. My friends and I trying to blow each others' minds just lying there gazing, young and ridiculous and we meant it, our eyes watering. The moon without abstraction then became a floating ball of rock in outer space, not a sticker or a light or a hole through black paper. We were making food and records and paintings and walking around beneath a real infinity. I felt my size. That brief dissipating shock of looking into outer space and seeing just for a second the bottomless distance pressed against my face. My little mind trying to write it down, zooming out, a faint yelp lost in a thunderstorm. Sufficiently small, thinking on the geologic scale, making the voice of mountains. Reaching beyond my old concerns from when I was 17 in 1995. All the layers of life glint in my flashing eye simultaneously and at any moment we could die and so with urgency I keep a candle by my side and watch it disappear and glow at the same time. The weather moves across the land and doesn't have a reason. This rippling uncertainty beneath our bones is still the true state of all things. It was at a truck stop in northern Italy. I was on tour playing drums and always wandering off alone squinting into the setting sun, my notebook filling. I was touring, living on an alternate plane within but set apart from this life where people wake and work and don't self uproot each day. Instead we passed through the towns like criminals. I was so gladly included in this rare world, this moving cult of groundlessness, roomless, moving, awake. Across that parking lot, recognition of the same: Another touring American band, Bonnie Prince' Billy, all dressed in matching track suits and sunglasses, grizzled and silly, a kind of Italian tour costume, blending in but not really, and their playfulness with persona liberated me with permeability. I thought who is it even that sings and who comes to life between the ears of the hearers in the rooms at night and how can we all get deep? The packaging distracts from the nourishment it wraps.Fixation on the singer's face or on the band's name keeps us groveling and blind at the edge of a sea, unsubmerged in the singing waterfall, looking for a door into the mansion, taking this weird art project out into public, indulging in cultivated ambiguity about participants' identities, letting misperceptions hang because nothing's really true. With this imagined collective called the Microphones I wrote about climbing up and dying and flying off as vultures, and a universe beyond, innocent of the real air of death that awaited down the path. At the very end of 2002 I took the Microphones name and crumpled it up and burned it in a cave on the frozen edge of Northern Norway. I made a boundary between 2 eras of my life, a feeble gesture at making chaos seem organized. The roaring river carves on, laughing at my efforts while the idea of something called Mount Eerie engulfed me and time refuses to stop. Many many years later I heard Freezing Moon by Mayhem and these words jumped out: the cemetery lights up again, eternity opens and I say nothing stays the same, no one knows anything. Someone else lives in the house I used to live in and soon it will be torn down or burn and who would even want to live in a prolonged stagnation? I am older now and I no longer feel the same way that I did even 5 seconds ago. Watch me thrash around and try to gracefully allow the past to hang like no big deal. Bands that break up and then reunite for money can do whatever they want but it makes me glad that I am only this one contrary grump (one hand clapping) impossible to reunite. Live, the present moment burns. I will never stop singing this song. It goes on forever. I started when I was a kid and I still want to hold it lightly: this luxurious privilege to sit around frowning and wondering what it means, playing with words and trying to prove that names mean nothing. A finger pointed at the moon mistaken for something shining and true. I never used to think I'd still be sitting here at 41 trying to breathe calmly through the waves but nothing's really changed in this effort that never ends. When I took my shirt off in the yard I meant it, and it's still off. I'm still standing in the weather looking for meaning in the giant meaningless days of love and loss repeatedly waterfalling down and the sun relentlessly rises still. It seems like I'll never not lose wisdom. Constantly re-learning all the basics, never recognizing any faces, crawling out from under living layers, squinting in the light of earth, bathing, shaking off the weight of expectation, plus all this nostalgia is embarrassing so I walk into an unknown room without a name. So what if I label this song Microphones in 2020? I hope the absurdity that permeates everything joyfully rushes out and floods the room like water from the ceiling, undermining all of our delicate stabilities, admitting that each moment is a new collapsing building. Nothing is true but this trembling, laughing in the wind. Anyway every song I've ever sung is about the same thing: standing on the ground looking around, basically. If there have to be words, they could just be now only and there's no end
Written by: Phil Elverum
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