Skip to main content

The career or the soundtrack


Q: In everyday life, do you sometimes have the impression of being in a film?

Baudrillard: Yes, particularly in America, to a quite painful degree. If you drive around Los Angeles in a car, or go out into the desert, you are left with an impression that is totally cinematographic, hallucinatory. You are … steeping in a substance which is that of the real, of the hyper-real, of the cinema. This is so even with that foreboding of catastrophe: an enormous truck bowling along a freeway, the frequent allusions to the possibility of catastrophic events, but perhaps that is a scenario I describe to myself.”

-From Baudrillard Live: selected interviews.


LI is of the opinion that post-modernity never happened, that all the features that are supposed to be postmodern – the hyperreal, the self as self-reference, the undermining of epistemic certainties by pure doxic moments (doxa, you Platonists will remember, are the half way real) – that all of this is what happens as we wander about the extended sensorium created by modernism. When Gerald Nerval in Aurelia recounts the l'épanchement du songe dans la vie réelle (the effusion of the dream in real life), the segues and montages and dissolves could be referenced, at best, to paintings and optical instruments like the microscope, telescope, and kaleidoscope, but now the dream is shot through real life in every grocery store and gas station rest room. And as for Nerval’s own version of the occult influence of the ordinary on his life – “I’ve often had this idea that in certain grave moments in life, the exterior world spirit, as such, incarnated itself suddenly in the form of an ordinary person, and acted or attempted to act on us, without that person’s  knowledge or memory” – this is what is meant by the modernist intuition that  everything we touch turns to mythology as the world seems to get more and more rational, and it is that quality, raised to the power of an external system, that is the sensorium of modernity, on all tracks.

I’ve been in that sensorium since I was born, sixty five years ago. At some point in my teen years, I decided that I would never have a career. A career seemed like the kind of thing that I couldn’t fit my person into. Other people can’t fly on planes, or bear outdoor spaces – myself, I had career-ophobia.

But I did want something else, which leads me back to Baudrillard’s comment. Baudrillard was trying to understand America, and kudos for the film to reality to film segue, but what he left out – and what is so much part of the American character, at least for those of my generation, was the  movie music. I did not want a career, but I did want a soundtrack. A soundtrack that would be the objective correlative of whatever I was doing with myself. Here we have a question for psychologists: what is the meaning and history of the life soundtrack? I know many people who definitely have this same sense – and in fact, those are the people who have always fascinated me in my life. There are many things that go into elective affinity – one of them for me is the intuition that a certain person has this soundtrack, lives with it, nourishes it, realizes, obscurely, that it is important. These people are poseurs, and I do love poseurs – it requires a lot of push back against the inertia of the everyday, which, after a while, wears on even Popeye’s muscle. I do think the soundtrack dies, for a lot of people – who knows, perhaps most people – in the twenties. It might be a sign of one’s retarded development in late modern capitalism to retain it, as I do, into middle age.

Myself, I have lived with a soundtrack intermittently. I’ve never quite generated that buzz which for some people means that you can almost hear their soundtrack as you observe them. I haven’t felt very soundtracked, I must say, in the last couple of years, where being married and raising a child take up my best and blest energies.

However, that is not the only reason for my soundtracklessness. The other reason is that I hardly ever drive, and when I do, hardly ever drive alone.

Baudrillard’s response about the West leaves out that very important thing. It is puzzling. He was bent on noticing. But he didn’t notice the  radio. It was in the eighties when he was going out to the American badlands, and apparently he didn’t go out with what I always had in the car: the tape. The mixed tape. Without it – especially in those vast eyeaching spaces that you have to speed through, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Texas – the movie-in-life becomes simply a trance of sleep inducing landscapes.

The way in which a soundtrack was forged from forward motion in an automobile and the right tunes coming from the tape or radio is a nugget of pure Americana. It is where Buffalo Bill and Daniel Boone went to. I have, perhaps, failed to create the soundtrack I envisioned when I was a wee little peeper in suburban Atlanta, but I have tried, goddamn it. This is how the pure products of America go crazy – to some cultic sound.


Anonymous said…