Hollywood, MA was never an apology. I admit that one may be overdue in some contexts and I’ll get to that eventually or maybe not. It is, rather, an attempt to untangle a pattern of events that I thought reflected a greater emotional deficiency on my part.
I think most people will live their entire lives never feeling truly seen. I think we may be lucky to feel at times that we have been glimpsed, and many live and die contently believing that this is as good as it gets. I know that I believed this prior to experiencing the love that I have now been lucky enough to have stumbled on myself. But I think for the most part that the vast majority of people will never be so lucky as to know what they were once missing out on.
Because of this, we find ourselves settling, without even knowing that settling is what we are doing, for superficial visibility. We cling to the first person who shows potential for seeing or for evoking the feeling of being seen, while knowing deep deep down that the given context will never allow for such empathy. We blame attachment styles that we learned about in infographics or in rooms where they were harmonized by white-noise-machines, stationed carefully outside the door to protect our little anxious-avoidant secrets. And we believe that this is the closest anybody ever comes to empathy because, metacognitively, that’s the closest we’ve ever come.
Technically though, there is of course no true ability within the experience of humanness to see and feel the world through another’s perspective. Simultaneously, many of life’s greatest pains and joys stem from attempts to challenge this truth, many of life’s most celebrated masterpieces from this resistance.
David Foster Wallace, a particular standout among the many favorites I have which make up a specific group of partialities of mine that I’ve been informed can be described as “male manipulator taste” (a concept that probably-not-so-coincidentally tracks with some of the lyrical themes present in Hollywood—I’m nothing if not self aware), gave a voice to a lot of the feelings I have about empathy and loneliness. He sought, through densely postmodern literature, to get as infinitely close to true empathy as one can get. I’ve sought, through catchy accessible pop music, to sort-of vaguely approximate some semblance of it.
At the risk of inviting accusations that I am overintellectualizing a song which, at the end of the day, is stylistically characterized more by the presence of 808 hi hats than the highbrow quality of the lyrics, I tried to imbue some of the strategies of my favorite postmodern minds into the writing of Hollywood, fusing together different stories about a number of separate times that I felt I was incapable of sincere emotion into one Frankenstein-like mass of self pity. In doing so, I hoped to harness the power of postmodernism in inviting listeners to question the urge to identify and/or compare, or the sheer theoretical potential for doing so at all.
Artmaking, for me, has always been about this challenge. I wake up every day feeling no choice but to rise to it because A) it’s fun and I think I’m good at it, B) I think I would probably just shrivel up and die if the opportunity for emotional vouyeurism through art was not available to me.
For a long time I thought that making and releasing music was the only way I could ever hope to feel seen and heard. I struggled, and struggle substantially still, with how difficult it is to reach peoples’ eyes and ears. Modern technology, for all of the ways that it’s enabled this connectivity, also oversaturates our capacity for consuming media to such an extent that I think by the time I get my turn to speak, everyone has already connected with quite enough people for the day. As someone who is similarly affected as a media consumer by these overwhelming opportunities for consumption, I have nothing but sympathy for the audiences I often struggle to reach. That being said, in this struggle I sometimes feel a shameful vulnerability, a creeping awareness that my emotional perversion has left me an embarrassingly voyeurless voyeuree.
It’s an incredibly lonely feeling to throw your art about loneliness into a dark, resonant chamber and hear it echoed back only once or twice, realizing through this sonar-like strategy that the cave really is not that deep at all, that you are actually every bit alone as you feel. It seems, at times, comically apropos. I am incredibly grateful for those who echo my loneliness back to me in their own voice and for those who hear but perhaps echo only silently in their own heads.
I am also incredibly grateful that as of late I find myself less alone in this cave. I can speak more quietly and be heard by ears only inches away from my mouth. I have a dugout full of other voices urging me to throw another piece of art, to really put my arm into it this time.
Sorry for mixing metaphors. There’s your apology after all.
PS For those who ask about the meaning of the title, I wish I had an answer for you. I liked the idea of there being a town in Massachusetts called “Hollywood” the way that there is a town in Texas called “Paris”. I lived in Massachusetts for many years and hated it there.