In Anticipation of "My Finest Work Yet"
In December I listen to a lecture on Marat, my head resting in my right hand. I squint at Marat. He squints back at me. Or, rather, his eyes are cast so delicately to the ground that I cannot attempt to capture his gaze, and yet I feel something. In February I squint at Andrew Bird on his newly-released album cover, gaunt-faced, heavy-lidded, and draped over his tub, a re-up of the famous “Death of Marat” painting. I greet Andrew-Marat, wondering just how he’s capable of perpetually referencing my most intimate thoughts and feelings. Andrew Bird has always been able to see right through me, and “Sisyphus” is not an exception.
This year has been entombed with allusions. It’s my senior year and life is circular, so I discover time and again repetitions of past intricacies. Songs I haven’t heard in years reappear on playlists, I wear roller skates suspiciously similar to the ones Olivia Newton-John wore in my favorite movie when I was eight, and now, Andrew Bird, my artist and muse, reenacts a favorite segment of French history and addresses my old affinity for Greek mythology in one of his opening singles for his new album. I have become, I believe, what I consume.
I did not have many friends growing up. I took companions from the stories I loved and examined myself next to characters and literary concepts with a keen eye. I see myself so rampantly reflected in these forms of media that I wonder just how much control I’ve truly had over who I’ve become.
“Sisyphus,” not Hades’ Sisyphus, but rather Andrew’s distinct, spare “Sisyphus” looks upon the rock he’s chasing with a narrow gaze. He’s a beautiful Hellenistic metaphor in a Bronze age package. He lets it roll. He lets me roll. “History forgets the moderates,” says Andrew, and with that simple sentence he deftly manages to link a condemned mythological hero to a deified French revolutionary. Sisyphus tricked the gods – radical, one could say – and became infamous in his own idiotic mortality. Marat, ever the red Jacobin, was murdered and martyred, his out-for-blood politics rendering him ultimately remembered. Bird’s “Sisyphus” becomes a far more terrifying Jean-Paul-Sisyphus. The combined figure watches me shift in my own personal politics and identity as I grow and evolve, my blooming ethics swinging like a mortifying pendulum. I can’t get over it, the message being so relevant, and Bird having packaged it so delicately in two stories I already know well.
I wonder if my sense of self is a capital-A-Allusion. Is this all I am? Am I a product of the subjects, the Greek myths and the French histories that I have swallowed whole? I wonder if Andrew Bird is asking me to ask this – just like Pulaski at Night forced me to examine my own lonesomeness with a critical eye, just like Fingerlings dried out my mouth and made me absolutely starving for summertime. Sisyphus asks me if I am who I think I am.
Should I even answer the question? Should I “let it roll”? Should I welcome my personal inquisition? Are we all simply models? As the year goes on and summer rapidly approaches, I escalate as Bird does, his 20-year career marking his sound ever the more experimental and my 17 years ever the more understood.
I write this three weeks in advance of his next album. I wonder what I’ll wake up to next. -Grace Yanotta
Grace Yannotta is currently in her senior year of high school in North Carolina and has work published or forthcoming in Eastern Iowa Review, Night Music Journal, Anatolios Magazine, and Cardiff Review, among others.
Listen to “My Finest Work Yet” here.