“All human life, we may say, consists solely of these two activities: (1) bringing one’s activities into harmony with conscience, or (2) hiding from oneself the indications of conscience in order to be able to continue to live as before.” ~Leo Tolstoy

“Ain’t no point in gettin’ out of bed 
If you ain’t livin’ the dream.” 
~Living the Dream
Sturgill Simpson, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music

The above quote and lyrics have been circling my brain for the past few weeks, and today (like that!, when the lightening bolt of realization strikes) I realized they’re saying just about the same thing. I was driving to the store after a beautiful, rainy midday run, listening to the best singer-songwriter LP these ears have found since Isbell, and the chorus of the lead single instantly identified itself as a modern-day match to the musings of Tolstoy from more than century prior.

Sturgll Simpson, who I came across when his record was named #1 of the 2014 by American Songwriter, is becoming a fast favorite. His style is entirely his own, with roots in coal country bluegrass and folk, God-given vocal prowess and a damned honest take on living with struggle and sin and drugs and trying to maintain.  His ability to hold a note and pack it full of sorrow is something that cannot be taught, and his playing is equally steeped in soul. His attitude, in performances I’ve seen on YouTube and interviews and statements he’s given, is positively charming in a don’t give a damn fashion. His words are, even when slightly odd and disturbing, are the kind of truths found in the corners of bars with few patrons other than the sad old regulars, the kind of truths spoken by artists who are constantly struggling to say what they need and in turn, find they can say it by coming closer and closer each time. He can kill it on a couplet, see above and below for cases in point. Taken as a whole, Simpson’s breakthrough LP shows a fundamental understanding of prog and rock as much as it does country, fusing all kinds of darkness and spirituality with weird strings and syncopation. I should get this on vinyl — of course, it’s all sold out on his Bandcamp.

This song is a good way to kickstart the morning, or liven up an everyday afternoon. It gets me thinking about how lucky we all are to have the time here to do what we will with, how there is no reason other than self-perception to hold you back from becoming as fully actualized in the world as you are in your own reality. Disharmony is an illness, it infects the body and the mind, makes you swollen in ways that make self-medicating seem like an easy cure.  But there is no real fix, other than the ability to open your eyes enough to the world right in front of you and accept it as the one that can offer your heart what it needs to feel full, or you find that world elsewhere. This is what the Tolstoy quote refers to – and this is, I have found, a lesson that makes it seem very simple and clear and binary when it comes to deciding what you want to do, where you want to do and who you want to do it with. It is easy to glamorize the use of drugs and alcohol  – Simpson does this more than once on “Metamodern,” probably, though his descriptions prove he’s keenly aware of the danger it provides. It is much more difficult to will yourself into living healthily, living gracefully, living with humility and forgiveness in the face of a world full of humans as flawed and failing as you are, stumbling into one another with their heats leaking all over the place. We are bound, in these times, in any times, to deal with situations of disharmony, of discomfort, of the opposite of our dreams. It is how we navigate these moments, I think, that determines if we let them hold us back. Do we wallow in the fear, in the anxiety and let the situation overtake our greater being, or do we examine it in a new light to see its shades and colors for what they are, without letting them tint our view of the rest of the whole wide world? Can it be, with the latter approach, that we are better able to control ourselves and make whatever life we find ourselves living feel more in touch, more in tune with who we are? What a struggle it always is, and always could be, to become the best version of yourself you know in your heart to be. Yet is there anything else to do, but try?

“Been dancing with demons all my life
Every time I find my groove, they cut in like a knife.”

~It Ain’t Flowers
Sturgill Simpson, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music