Hi there! Let me show you why I’ve started this blog with a little adventure through MGMT’s “Time to Pretend.”
“This is our decision – to live fast and die young.
We’ve got the vision, now let’s have some fun.
Yeah it’s overwhelming, but what else can we do?
Get jobs in offices and wake up for the morning commute
Forget about our mothers and our friends.
We were fated to pretend.
– MGMT, “Time to Pretend”
At the end of my high school career, psych-rock band MGMT released Oracular Spectacular, featuring the explosive gem of synth-pop, “Time to Pretend.”
“Ok but why ‘explosive’ and why ‘gem’? Sounds a little emptily promotional to me,” Jesse, my brother asks, commenting on the opening line to my original draft of this post in an e-mail exchange months ago.
Well, frankly, when I typed “explosive gem,” I just wasn’t really thinking about it. I just dumped my introductory blog post out on Word and figured I’d make it pretty eventually. Rereading my first attempt, I suffered the same sensation that gurgles in my gut as hearing my own voice, or worse, watching myself on video. I felt a particular distaste about “explosive gem,” because it reminded me of a stereotypical music critic’s weak attempt at creativity. But something about it still felt right to me; no other alternative I thought of expressed quite what I was trying to say. Then Jesse and I independently realized a deeper meaning to the phrase and grew to admire its perfection.
It’s possible I was simply subconsciously pretending I was some Pitchfork pundit, but, still, “explosive gem” was a product of a stream of consciousness. While Jesse’s original criticism paralleled my own doubts, I liked the phrase because it so viscerally illustrated what the song has always made me visualize -a psychedelic explosion of fractured jewels. Maybe like a kaleidoscope, or like a geode. And that’s when I realized the possible source of the phrase – childhood memories, which are mostly a mix of The Simpsons, my brothers, and rural North Jersey.
The first memory that came to mind was the following Simpsons scene:
Martin: Kaboom! That, the sound of the thunderous volcanic explosion that gives birth to the magnificent geode…
– Sweet Seymour Skinner’s Badass Song, Season 5 Episode 19
I think this Simpsons quote was so especially lodged in my subconscious because of my real experiences with this “explosive gem.” My other brother Jon’s geode, of all the relics housed in my brothers’ rooms, always mesmerized me partly because it resembled the geode in the above Simpsons scene. One of my favorite places growing up was Sterling Hill Mine in the next town over where I collected miniature geodes in bright magenta and aqua.
“Explosive gem” erupted from my childhood memories, fueled by my now too-often suppressed imagination. Appropriately, I believe the same force of nostalgia for the fantasies of childhood drives the lyrics of “Time to Pretend. MGMT similarly reminisce about childhood while fantasizing about their future as rock-stars. As the song juxtaposes youthful fantasies of fame, fortune, and creative expression with contemplative sentimentality about growing up, I think about how who we want to be as adults is intertwined with our childhood dreams and desires; yet, at the same time, the inevitability of growing up and pursuing our adult identities forever severs us from the carelessness of childhood. After describing the band’s life plan, Andrew VanWyngardens sings, “I’ll miss the playgrounds and the animals and digging up worms.” To pursue dreams of music fortune and fun, he’ll never go back to the innocent play of childhood.
Jesse told me, “The phrase “explosive gem’ gets very few Google hits [and] has exactly zero appearances in Google’s N-gram corpus” (Thanks, NERD!) The only media he had found relating to explosive gem was this adorable YouTube video of a little boy, playing with his plastic figurines, entitled “Rock Monster Eating an Explosive Gem.” This is exactly the kind of innocent pretending I, and I believe MGMT, miss and often yearn to revive.
Sure, I love the synth, bassline, and clapping samples – qualities of the “neon poison” classification of music that my Tufts WMFO freeform radio show co-host and friend so “complimentarily” defined as my personal musical taste. And maybe, according to the songwriters themselves, this song is mostly inspired by a pet praying mantis, so I’m bit hesitant to say my interpretation is the song’s intended meaning. But four years after this song came out, after graduating college, entering Boston’s daily 9-5 grind, and scrambling to find a sense of purpose in my post-graduate, post-academic-structure existence, discussions with my brother Jesse drew me back to these words.
I think “Time to Pretend”’s fiery twenty-something spirit makes it such a fun anthem for myself and other fans of the song. But at the same time, I’m more intrigued by how this bravado tends to emphasize their naiveté and mask their anxiety. The gap between the band’s fantasy of fame and fortune and their reality, turns this rock-star manifesto into an admittance that, for now, the boys are only pretending. The story of the kind of life they hope to attain someday is little more than a list of stereotypes about the rock and roll lifestyle. Maybe they’re in the “prime of their [lives]” and resolute in the decision to “live fast and die young,” but they’ve barely embarked on the infamous journey to sex, drugs, and rock and roll. The naiveté of their fantasy lasts until the first chorus. Here they admit the gravity of this decision – how “overwhelming” it is. This evokes a sense of existential weight that every twenty-something shares. In becoming independent persons, we must imagine who we want to be, what life we want to live, with very little empirical knowledge of what to expect in actuality. And in order bring our dreams into reality, we have to pursue this independence, “forget about our mothers and our friends” and pretend to know what we’re doing.
I hope in this virtual space, I can continue to develop my creative and intellectual identity that I had previously practiced in the playpen of film classes and political thought seminars. I’ll analyze my passions – music, film, politics, and others – and pretend to be the writer, researcher, and teacher I think I would like to be someday. I think the best way to learn is through the Socratic dialectic, so I hope you, dear reader, whoever you are, will feel free to comment and spark discussion so that we can learn from each other.
“To ‘fake it until we make it’ :)” – Jesse