In Madness and Civilization, Michel Foucault wrote of Renaissance-era "ships of fools", on which societies would load their madmen and send them out into the harbor to get them out of the cities and isolate them. Or to isolate the cities from them, whichever. On Lazaretto, Jack White sings of being put down in a lazaretto, those old island fortresses where the sick and disabled were quarantined. That idea of separation, of isolation, has become pertinent for me lately and been much on my mind.
I got away from writing here regularly for a while, in part because everything I wrote was beginning to sound so self-obsessed and sometimes self-pitying, to the point that it was becoming tedious even to me, much less to anyone who might've stumbled across those ramblings on the interwebs. But also because as I got deeper and deeper into Jack White's music, I became involved in the community of his fans. It began at a message board, expanded to the Third Man Records Vault and another message board, to a couple of Facebook groups, and, most importantly, to people I've met face-to-face at his shows. I still wrote about Jack's music here because there was so much in it that inspired me and that I wanted to dig into and mentally digest. But more and more, I didn't need this place to get my thoughts out, I was able to do it in all those other places and get instant feedback, have dialogues instead of these rambling monologues. I came out of isolation, at least via the written word. Physically, I'm still separate, as all of these people I relate to are spread around the U.S. and I see them rarely, whenever we gather for a show. The rest of the time, it's me on my own, until I sit down at the computer and reach out.
But lately something's been different. It's been building up gradually for a while, a feeling of disconnection, of distance, from the community I've felt such a part of, from both the internet "friends" I relate to and the real friends I've formed an emotional connection with. Is it my old pattern rearing its head, my apparent inability to have long-lasting relationships with people? What's behind that, anyway? Whatever it is, it started out early. I was always one of those kids who was off by themselves with a book or exploring in the woods. I had friends, but still spent a lot of time alone. Then an incident in 6th grade led to complete ostracism, turning me into one of those kids sitting shunned on the side of the playground. High school was no better, especially after I became one of three punk rockers in the entire school and walked a daily gauntlet of derision from the jocks and popular kids. Exposure to my parents' constant arguing didn't help, either, as it was just one more thing to block out, to build a wall against.
If you've ever read the book Cold Mountain (and I mean the book, not the film Jack White was in), you may understand when I say that I strongly identify with the main female character, Ada, who is described as "eccentric and bristly". Ada's physical isolation in Black Cove is, of course, a metaphor for her isolation from people in general, which is due in large part to how she chooses to relate to those around her. She has little patience for the accepted mores of the city culture she was raised in, and is at a loss in the completely unfamiliar realm of country society. She frequently ends up saying the wrong thing in the wrong way, often as a means to keep people at a distance either intentionally or unconsciously. As a result, there's a wall around her, built by her own hands using the bricks of other people's inability to comprehend her. To say that I understand that alienation would be an understatement, despite the friendships I've formed over the last few years.
For the past couple weeks, that feeling's been intensely strong. Part of it is envy of those friends whose schedules have allowed them to attend recent shows on Jack's current tour for the new album. These are people I genuinely like and have enjoyed spending time with, but I find myself not wanting to hear from them because the few details I've heard of these shows make me bitterly resentful that I've not been there. It's an ugly reaction, one that makes me loathe myself, and that makes me retreat even further from these people because I don't want to expose them to my ugliness. But the last few days, it's become even worse. Without any rational clue why, I've been peevish, angry, melancholy-- lashing out, crying while driving in the car, having arguments with people in my head that I wouldn't allow myself to have anywhere else, stuck in isolation inside my own brain instead of focused outward. Then it dawned on me-- Part of it is this record, Lazaretto. This depressed and angry mood's been with me ever since the night I received it last week, from the moment I read The Admitting of Patience, a play in one act at the beginning of the book that accompanied the album:
THE ADMITTING OF PATIENCE
(Male or Female)
I fantasize about hospital beds,
jail, work camps, the army.
I thought of branding myself,
tattooing a message to myself
With a symbol that I can't be
at peace with anyone.
A boy in the water. I'm hurt,
but not afraid of physical pain.
(M or F)
I don't feel very good about myself.
People always leave me.
Nobody can stand me for very long.
I wish I could cut my tongue out,
or take out the part of my brain
that has opinions. Or cares.
I wish I could be simple.
Be quiet, introverted, or shy.
I'm half way in between a wallflower
at a party and elvis presley.
People love one or the other.
In between is no place to be.
The impact of that practically brought me to my knees. It did bring me to tears, and I don't mean just welling up in my eyes. I mean shoulder-shaking sobs. Good lord above, talk about identifying with something someone's expressed. And then to put on the record and discover the song Alone In My Home, in which he sings
That are thrown against my bones
But they hurt less as time goes on
I build my own home
To be sure
That nobody can touch me now
That's followed immediately by That Black Bat Licorice, with its refrain of
Don't you want to lose the
Part of the brain that has opinions?
To not even know what you are doing?
Or care about yourself or
Your species in the billions?
Listening to these two songs feels as if he's been in my own head, pulled out my own thoughts and feelings and experiences, all those incidents of feeling the wrong thing, thinking the wrong thing, saying the wrong thing, offending people and pissing them off, alienating and feeling alienated, and retreating into self-imposed quarantine. I'm not quite vain enough to believe I'm the only person who's listened to these songs and felt such things, but that doesn't diminish the impact. It's not been good. I love both songs, one of them is very beautiful, the other very witty, but the effect of them has left me feeling a bit on the edge of madness, or at least sociopathology. Far from the euphoric feeling Jack's music normally inspires in me. How do I reconcile this? Wallow in it and hope it passes on its own? Stop listening to these songs? Smack myself upside the head in the hopes of knocking some rationality back into my brain?
I don't know. But I told someone the other night that I'd caught myself wishing I could be like a crazy homeless person, standing on a street corner ranting and talking to myself. It would be easier than trying to be a normal, civil person, at least until I can figure out how to get back out of this state of isolated insanity.