The Grumpy Owl’s Pandemic Playlist

In troubled times, many people suffer from some form of inspiration. They feel a great need to listen, watch, or look at art, and many artists have taken this opportunity to share their work with the world at large. While I, for one, am not sure how we will ever forgive these people for their abuse of a captive audience, other people seem to enjoy this whole looking at things thing and some even seem to enjoy sharing things of their own or even just things that they like and think other people might like too. This is, of course, terrible.

Inspecting art through foggy glasses near the trash bins.

If one thing remains true from the old normal into the new one, if there is one common thread that binds these worlds together, it’s this: No one likes the things you like and you should probably be really ashamed for liking these things in the first place. Indeed, many people don’t even like the things they themselves used to like. And yet these same people — people who could not make a sensible or durable decision regarding their own haircuts, romantic partners, or choice in shirts as little as ten years ago– are now rushing out to share their tastes with the world. It’s completely understandable. Times are quite bad.

In the spirit of bored public sadism that often informs the decision to become a DJ or artist, I too find myself wishing to share things I like with indifferent groups of strangers, who either already know these things and have come to their own decisions or have made a perfectly reasonable decision to avoid knowing about any of these things. As such, may I present, The Grumpy Owl’s Pandemic Playlist? Or, perhaps a better question is – just how do you intend to stop me? Because if this sort of thing could be stopped, it would have been.

The Endless Cawing of Fighting Crows

When Edgar Allen Poe put the words “nevermore” into the mouth of a Raven, he was obviously a victim of his own notorious optimism. Crows, as it turns out, very rarely offer very much timely commentary. Instead, they hang around, outside our windows, screaming. Their entire language sounds like swearing. Their entire lives seem to be one noisy brawl over a little stick or some such thing. Every single morning, it sounds like the barrooms have emptied into the streets and these barrooms were full of drunk and angry crows. Crows make very little sense. They sound hostile. They act worse.

And yet, if you listen carefully to these sounds for hours, day after day, until your very soul wilts at the mere sight of an open black beak, you can almost start to make some sense of the racket. In some cases, the crows are simply swearing at some other bird or each other, and, in other cases, they are calling their friend, so they might join in to swear. This is the sort of gross organized brutality that passes for intelligence in animals and too often in humans.

But there noises do have a general theme. The animals are taking the streets. What do animals even want? You could not understand even if they could say. So listen to the horrible and disordered ranting of the crows. It sounds like the future. The wolves will follow this noise. You do not want to know what things follow the wolves.

The Sound of a Child’s Laughter

On the surface, this noise seems similar to that of crows. Just like with the crows, you may expect such a sound to be eerie. Perhaps, you imagine the child’s voice echoing through the empty streets. Maybe it could turn into creepy disembodied singing. “Ring around the rosy, pocket full of posey.” One prays for such shivers. Seeing a single child playing alone in an empty park, just senselessly, endlessly, throwing a ball into the air and catching it, you need the child to suddenly let the ball drop and bounce away, make eye contact, and whisper “Nevermore.”

You’d be fucking lucky.

The child laughs instead.

The child’s voice has no obligation to your expectations. Children have no law. Their voices are brash and unsettling. As far away as children may be, they are still, somehow, always much too close. Their faces are not so much haunted as covered with jam. If you ever hear them whispering, you can be sure they are not whispering about your impending doom. They are probably planning an act of pure destruction, the very nihilism of which may shatter your will to to live. Look into their twinkling beady eyes. Really look. Your morality belongs to the old world. That world is dead. Parents are now being asked to do something that almost no previous generation of humans has ever had to do: Be around their own children. We are not only asking this of parents but also, in many cases, expecting them to pretend to like their own children. It’s an impossible demand. These children are our future.

Our future is being raised by the screaming of crows.

Who could possibly like that?

Robot Voices

As counterpoint to the disorder of animals and children, you may also enjoy listening to the soothing sounds of robots shouting from the heavens. These voices are automatic and garbled. Unlike children and crows, who construct a meaningless and overwhelming racket, the robot voices are dripping with meaning. You may not understand the order but you understand that it’s an order. Even better, your or someone else’s life may depend on following that order. So what was it that the robot said? I didn’t quite hear. Shhhh.

“$#%^% &^$$ &^*(!!!”

Wait, it’s gone.

Is any beacon from The Dead Normal more obsolete or ridiculous than this one?

And are the robots happy with the sky? No, of course not. They have expanded their dominion into every house. Was that a phone I just heard ping? Emergency alert or friend showing me the hilarious antics of a distraught cat? Is it bad news or worse news? There’s only one way to find out. Respond to the robot. Listen to the robot. The robot wants to help.

We need the robot!

Lucifer, Lover of Humans, have mercy on your kin!

The Unfathomable Prehistoric Silence of Plants

Five hundred million years ago, in the time when your grandmother’s grandmother was not even born yet, long before humans existed or even learned to send each other the most basic stone pictures of the hilarious antics of cats, indeed, even before the first cat and its doubtlessly hilarious antics, fern-like organisms who lacked mouths, organs or any means of moving, sat immobile on the sea floor, connected by the long thin filaments that formed their ancient social networks. Filaments such as these in more modern creatures “typically fulfill stabilization, defense, nutrient transport, or (asexual) reproductive roles.” The more things change, the more they stay the same. And there’s some comfort in that.

While you might not be able to communicate your plant and you, puny bald ape that you are, are probably unwelcome in their ancient and durable modes of chemical communication, you can certainly enjoy the ancient silence of the vegetative world.

The plant has nothing to say to you. Its needs are basic. Sit with your plant and listen. But, when your plant starts talking to you, you should probably take a break. These plants haven’t lived so long by giving their captors and enemies good advice. Just ask the dinosaurs. And you really can ask them. Just don’t expect any answer other than silence. The plants ate them too.

Nearby Breathing

While you’re listening to the unfathomable, prehistoric silence of plants, you may hear some nearby breathing. And not the normal sort of breathing. Not the breathing one hears coming from their drains late at night as the insects assemble their legions. No, this is a breathing that you have not heard before. A breathing that makes you wonder why you never heard it before. It’s so loud. Why have you never heard before?

It can be the breathing or your loved ones or even yourself. The important thing is this breathing is very loud and very near. How did you never hear it before? It’s so fucking loud, this breathing. At least it’s not a sniffle or a cough. Those are firecrackers.

Lo-Fi and Relaxing Beats of The Blood Orgies Next Door

But you don’t need to worry about that nearby breathing for very long. It’s about to be drowned out by the sounds of your neighbor’s blood orgies. These Satanic Rites can take all sorts of forms. Midnight jumping jacks, early morning stompings, a mid-afternoon hump, or just a giant drunken fight that spills into the hallways. Indeed, many of these things may be happening at the same time and, even if they’re not, it can be hard to tell the difference.

The best way to listen to these sounds is by wondering how your own Blood Orgies sound. Is the demon you summoned from the toilet making a suitably large racket as it careens madly around the bathroom, howling with a thousand heart-voices of a thousand thirteen year old boys seeing their first boob? Has the incubus you accidentally brought home in a jar of paste from the farmer’s market murmuring its ancient temptations loud enough to haunt the entire block? The Insect Legion? Has its breathing yet become whispers?

Once you understand that your own Blood Orgies are also producing sounds, you can understand that while these Blood Orgies may all seem isolated, we are all picking up the baton where other Blood Orgies have dropped it. We are, on some deeper level, all part of the same vast Blood Orgy. And if that doesn’t raise the Shadow Lord, what will?

Is That Just in My Head Or . . .

This sound can take a variety of very different forms. It can be The Low Rumbling. (You know what no one ever tells you about earthquakes? After a big one, you keep hallucinating the feel of them and these hallucinations stick to you.) It can be the high pitched cicada ringing of some unseen machine that might just your anxious ears attempting to seek out a threat. It might be the phantom buzzing of a phone. A distant roar of crowds from The Central Districts? I’ve heard that noise at dawn. At least, I think I did. I don’t know what I heard. If anything. I really have no idea.

And Is that Just In My Head Or . . . can be even stranger and more disorienting than this. Just the other day, I’d forgotten that I’d put some music on and, when a song stopped, I was briefly confused, wondering if the music had just been in my head. Is that how my brain sounds? Do I always have some sort of song in my head? Or was it a sound from outside my head? If so, what? What the hell was it? Was it just in my head or . . .

And that’s the joy of this particular song. It lives right on the horizon of your hearing. You can’t even be sure that you heard it. You could just be losing it. But, of course, you’re not losing it at all. You are simply becoming aware of the amount of sensory information that hovers between external and internal reality. Sometimes you hear the noise, sometimes you hear the blueprint for how your brain organizes the noise. Often, you cannot tell the difference. This song is only noticing. Many of these songs are only noticing.

The Same Conversation for The Thousandth Time

It’s not uncommon for monks to take a vow of silence. This probably seems mystical to most people. Or maybe it used to. By now, we can all see its practical purpose.

I mean, you have all these monks living in their secluded isolation. Then in comes the new arrivals. Probably, some of these new arrivals are after some sort of deep spiritual knowledge. Most likely, many of them are some sort of town fuck-up. Some drunk that finally got kicked out of all the bars. A delinquent or precocious child whose parents just couldn’t take it anymore. The new arrivals are probably all some sort of wild, noisy, and annoying. Some of them may have ukuleles, for fuck’s sake, if you can even believe it.

Now, if you’ve been in monastery for while, the last thing you probably want to do is explain why the incense goes here or smells like that or what the actual worth of a ukulele may be. You’ve explained it thousands of times and it hasn’t mattered once. So what do you do? You make these people take a vow of silence. You just need some fucking quiet.

Of course, things in The Hermitage of The Worm God Zero do not allow for such simple solutions and they are not quite so drastic in quite the same way. (Yet.) Still, many conversations between humans are about recent and differing events. How was your day at work? That sort of thing. Stories are typically told by travelers who have been to some uncharted land and they are typically told to people who have not been to said land. Stories speak from places we can’t hear. But here? Now? What here? What now?

There’s no there and not much silence. We both saw the hilarious antics of that cat.

This means that you can find yourself repeating things. Telling the same stories until they’re worn out. This is probably a risk in any relationship (as anyone who has met my Father will surely attest) but it’s one that can be mitigated with a degree of self-awareness. (A quality that Father, to put it mildly, may sometimes lack.) These stories can be a comfort.

But even beds can give you sores if you stay in them, if you see what I mean.

The Comfortable Silence

One of the most pleasant things to ever hear is the silence of someone with nothing to say. Knowing how and when not to talk is an incredibly valuable and important skill. It’s just as important as knowing when and how to speak. As this thing wears on, the virtues of silence become more important while the risks of speaking become more apparent.

It’s so important that we consider each other’s feelings but we also need times of inconsideration. Not a hostile or offensive inconsideration. Not inconsiderate like littering. Just a pleasant and easy indifference. Love is made up of consideration and freedom from consideration. Just as important as the consideration of another person is the ability to take a break from this consideration — the ability to be utterly indifferent to them or their feelings and to feel safe in that indifference. That indifference is where our selves live. Our silence is our difference. You must learn to keep this silence. Even in times of togetherness. Especially then.

While not exactly a party banger, these comfortable silences are a great listen. And when the the crows start screaming again, the kids laughing, and the insect legions assembling, you might find in these silences something to say that you have not said before. Something to distract you. Then again, you may just make a farting noise. Either is good. Satan needs everyone, after all.


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