Steve Eley (sfeley) wrote,
Steve Eley
sfeley

Shop Vac

So I went to the Jonathan Coulton concert last week. With my dearest (afeley), my sweetie (kitanzi), her husband (autographedcat), and a dozen or so of our closest friends.

It was a good show. Really, it ought to be billed as the "Paul and Storm and Coulton" concert, because they're so much more than just an opening act. Anna said she liked them better than Coulton, and I think that's fair; they certainly brought a lot more energy than he did. Still, they were all good. Anna and I had some tension that I'm not going to talk about right now; we resolved it later. The interesting thing about it in this context is that this is the second time I've been to the Coulton concert with some screwed-up circumstances just before the music, and it's the second time the show was good enough to make me forget all about it for a while.

Anyway. One of the songs he played was "Shop Vac."  If you haven't heard it yet, you should listen -- this post will make a lot more sense if you do.  

The next day, I Twittered this:
One concert annoyance: why do people laugh and shout out during "Shop Vac?" That song is TRAGIC. It's a tearjerker. Does nobody else get it?
I got some good responses to that. And yesterday Kit told me that autographedcat  had done a followup LJ post from my Twitter.  I just finished reading his insightful analysis and all of its comments.  I don't read LJ regularly enough; I should have known already that he'd done it.

It's fascinating to see so many perspectives on the same content.  Rob thinks the song is funny because it's true.  Others in his comments find the protagonist of the song utterly unsympathetic, or criticize Coulton for dissing the suburban lifestyle, or simply revel in the ironic dissonance between the song's melody and lyrics.  These are all thoughtful opinions worthy of respect.  I'm not sure everyone clapping and cheering at the concert thought about it as deeply.  If they did...  Well, then I still disagree with them.

I'm pretty strong in my own views of the song. I don't think it's funny at all. I don't think it's a 'fuck you' to suburban culture, even if Coulton himself said so. The artist's intention only has to inform my interpretation of the song if I choose.  I know what the song is about, at least to me, and it's not disrespectful and it's not funny.

I think it's tragic.  Suburbia itself is just a placeholder in the song.  It's the Walter Mitty tragedy.  It's about the pain of mundane living, Thoreau's 'quiet desperation,' and the subtle alienation and soul death that can sneak up on us all when we're too busy thinking about our immediate velocity to worry about our position.  I think putting oneself above the song's carelessly cruel narrator is a dangerous sort of arrogance.  We all risk shutting out our awareness of our own feelings and the feelings of the people around us.  Saying we'd never do that is asinine.  And laughing at it is...well, it's crueler to me than the guy with the shop vac.

I'm offended upset by the laughter.  Granted, no one else has to agree.  I don't think this is a matter of "I'm right, you're wrong."  I may have had the impulse to stand up and yell at people during the concert, but I didn't actually do it.  Objectively, I know that my interpretation and feelings on the song are no more valid than anyone else's.  

But they're no less valid either.  And I wanted to share them.  This song hurts.  Not because I think I really am that guy in the song.  But because I'm afraid of becoming that guy.  And I think it's something most of us, the peer group most likely to be reading this post, ought to be more afraid of.

Comments welcome.
 
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