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10 Years of FILTER: Issue #13 Cover Story: Bright Eyes

By Staff on June 1, 2012

 

10 Years of FILTER: Issue #13 Cover Story: Bright Eyes

2012 marks FILTER Magazine’s tenth year in print. To celebrate, we are looking back at some of our favorite magazine features, from July 2002’s Issue #1 all the way up to this coming November’s Issue #50.


Below you will find Issue #13’s cover story, in full, documenting our conversation with Conor Oberst, the genius behind Bright Eyes. Read about the singer's thoughts and feelings behind his then upcoming dual album release of I'm Wide Awake and It's Morning, and Digital Ash In A Digital Urn.


Out of the Shadows: The Arrival of Conor Oberst (Issue 13, Holiday 2004)
By Mikel Jollet

“There’s more beauty in the truth, even if it is dreadful beauty. The storytellers at the city gate twist life so that it looks sweet to the lazy and the stupid and the weak, and this only strengthens their infirmities and teaches nothing, cures nothing, nor does it let the heart soar.”

--John Steinbeck, East of Eden

OK, it’s like this: we have to start with the record. There’s just too much to tell about the whole fable of Conor Oberst, the story of Saddle Creek records, the big years that he’s going to have in 2005, the war, the politics, the anguish, the alcohol, the drugs, the morbidity, the hope, the community, the newfound maturity, the timeless talent, Clear Channel—and the tragic fate of heroic and hopeless causes against it—to start anywhere else. Because none of it would matter a fucking lick if the music wasn’t great. And for once, it is. Whatever you may have heard about Bright Eyes, whatever you may assume about angstful music that gets blurted out over the fawning (though highly literate portion of the) teen masses—well, just forget about it. Because I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning (one of two records the 24-year-old wunderkind will be releasing in January) is not only the best record he’s ever made, it’s quite possibly one of the best folk records ever made. And it may just prove to be a classic.

That’s right, it finally happened. For years the music press has been talking about the “potential” of a certain 19, then 22, and now 24-year-old singer/songwriter from Omaha, Nebraska. Article after record review after interview will tell you he played his first show at age 14, started a record label with his friends while still a teenager (which he will not leave despite huge offers from major labels), and displayed enough talent to hint that he could someday write songs that evoke the lilting melancholy of Elliot Smith with the lyrical eloquence of Leonard Cohen, wrapped up in the melodic sensibility of Paul Simon. Fans have noticed too as his audience has steadily grown, nearly doubling his record sales on each successive release. He’s become a cult figure. A youth icon. And something of a pied piper for the culture of independent labels (that we know and love so much) trying to survive in an era of mind-numbing corporate monopoly over mainstream radio.

And now, when it could all fall apart, or just drift noiselessly into indie obscurity, he’s made what will probably be the breakout record of his career. Gone are the long, torturous diatribes of self-incrimination, the sheer anxiety over being anxious—and in its place Oberst has squarely focused a tender eye on America, mortality, the siren son of the road, and the fragile psyche of the individual living through troubled times. There’s something explosive about it. Something slightly unhinged. Like a hushed scream smothered by a big, rollicking storm of anger and sadness and hope. Which is rather how it feels to be an American right now.

Conor Oberst is arguably the most popular musician in the country who won’t play with Clear Channel (which controls most of the large radio stations and venues in major cities across the country). This will likely be the most critically acclaimed record of 2005. All of which begs the question: just what, exactly, is going to happen? Indeed, what does happen when the unstoppable force meets the immovable object?

The sidewalk outside the Orpheum Theater in downtown Los Angeles is littered with shards of broken beer bottles, trash, cigarette butts and endless please for “a little help” from behind the veneer of over-stuffed shopping carts. Tonight, it’s also littered with literate, opinionated kids who’ve come to see Conor Oberst perform. Meet Nick. He’s a 19-year-old college freshman from Redlands, California (50 miles to the east) who’s driven in with some friends for the only L.A.-area stop for the cheekily named “Monsters of Folk” tour (which along with Oberst, includes the timeless M. Ward and Jim James of My Morning Jacket). Nick has long brown hair that covers his forehead and ears, and the intelligent, optimistic face of a really good camp counselor. He’s a nice kid and loves Bright Eyes. When I ask him his favorites, he breathlessly repeats the lyrics to three different songs, word for word, without skipping a beat. His friends laugh. “I really think Bright Eyes is going to freaking go crazy,” he says, squinting his elfin nose. “I think mainstream is all good and everything because he’ll make more money. Good for him. He’s a genius. I just think everyone should like it. It should be like a religion.” He’s joking, of course.

I say goodbye to Nick and his friends and wander through the crowd talking to what are just downright smart, thoughtful kids who seem to genuinely like each other. Near the door to the theater, I come upon Alexandra Shuman. She’s a 15-year-old high school student from Victorville, California (100 miles to the northeast) with streaky blond hair and light hazel eyes. “I like the lyrics,” she says, bashfully. “I bought the tickets forever ago and I’ve been, like, counting down the days until tonight.” She then proceeds to tell me the same thing I’ve heard about 20 times by now: “It’s not that he makes me want to voice my opinion more or anything. I do that anyway. It’s more like I hear what he sings about and think, ‘Oh, I’m not the only one.’”

I make my way over to the tour bus in the parking lot for a brief chat with Mike Mogis, Saddle Creek’s resident producer genius, responsible for the production of just about every record the label has ever put out—from Cursive to Bright Eyes to the Faint. A wiry, talkative guy with small glasses and a tight blue T-shirt, he’s as close as Bright Eyes the band has to a second member. (Bright Eyes is often described as “Conor Oberst and whomever he brought on tour with him that time.”) He’s also responsible for the crisp lo-fi sound that the band has become known for, famously leaving in breaths between takes and the sounds of car keys in pockets, placing microphones inside ovens to capture “a more organic” reverb tone. He’s currently drinking a glass of Red Bull and Vodka (I think) and speaking excitedly about the new records and its guest performers.

He tells me about recording the forthcoming Bright Eyes rock record (Digital Ash for a Digital Urn) with Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (“The guy’s a pro”) and doing sessions in Nashville with Emmylou Harris for the folk one, I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning. (“She was really so sweet and, like, motherly almost. Conor and I were both extremely nervous. We didn’t know what to do, but after about 15 minutes it was normal.”) And as he warms to the subject of his close friend and collaborator, I realize the guy is as committed as they come to the lo-fi, do-it-yourself ethic of Saddle Creek and Bright Eyes and, like everyone on this tour (including Jim James and M. Ward), unabashedly gleeful about Oberst’s talent. “We just did these dates with Springsteen and R.E.M.,” he says. “Not a single person in there knows who the fuck Conor is except someone who might have gone to the website. But I looked at them, at least the people at front, it was older men, older women—it was like the parents of the kids that are usually here. And he has every fucking one of them, just an overwhelmingly positive response.”

I trade good wishes with Mogis as he runs back into the theater to join M. Ward onstage and meander back to the crowd of kids who, by now, have realized that there’s a journalist in their midst. They seem eager to speak and a few stop me because they want to get something off their chest (“I just want to say that Bright Eyes makes me feel more alive”)—and it occurs to me that all these kids seem to be searching for something. As if there is a missing piece from their lives that they’re finding here. I suppose it was always thus (whether with the Smiths or the Beatles), but I’m surprised to find a certain serenity in the audience as I enter the hall and sit down with a paper and pen in the back of the theater to watch Conor do his this. There are 2,000 people in the room and though a steady uproar builds as Conor takes the stage, it’s something of a familiar reception—as if Oberst is someone they know that they’re simply glad to see again. Maybe “familial” is actually a better word. This isn’t, say, Conor-mania. This isn’t really hero worship. This isn’t simply puberty and pheromones and cult mentality. It’s something else.

As Conor sings and lilts and whispers and stomps and screams his way through his set, the crowd eases into easy taunts and words of encouragement that turn into roars of approval whenever a particularly stripped-bare line echoes forth from his diminutive figure on the stage. Whenever he calls himself “a waste” or admits to “a lie” or confides in a lyric that everything he does sounds “fake and trite,” they roar with approval. It’s as if they’re responding to the honesty of it. Like this whole world for this, the Pepsi generation, is so filled with salable images and pre-packaged ideas and vetted sound-bytes and the complete saturation of talking heads, misleading commercials, videos, movies, billboards, game shows, talk shows, marketing, made-for-TV war—and they just want to hear one true voice saying something human and honest among the endless noise and static. And it seems a genuine need to fill in a post-modern, morally relative world where nothing seems real and fact and spin are given equal weight—that to just be blatantly, soul-searchingly, painfully honest is a fucking revelation. And everything—from the lo-fi recordings to the bucking of major labels and Clear Channel to the simple fact of that skinny, messy-haired, slightly spastic, slightly unhinged manic-depressive kid onstage disclosing his darkest secrets in such elegant prose—seems to be about honesty. There’s a desire to know something real, to feel something real, to understand the personality which drives it. 

I suppose I felt the same way as I stood in an elevator at the Mandalay Bay Casino in Las Vegas three days earlier. We’d decided to do the interview in Las Vegas to dispense with the many distractions awaiting the tour in Los Angeles. Vegas seemed to me an unlikely backdrop for a discussion with an artist known for stripping away artifice (casinos are nothing if not artificial), but as it turns out, it suited our needs perfectly. The tour was in town for a one-night show at the House of Blues and Conor Oberst, as it turned out, was not much of a gambler (though he did tell me later he won bug at roulette against the longest odds in Vegas—a fact that seemed quite telling at the time). In short, we talked all afternoon. About songwriting, about isolation, about Clear Channel and the future of Saddle Creek records, alienation, sorrow, Chekhov, loneliness, fantasy, Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, the fear of death, the fear of mediocrity, the fear of being along and kids. It’s interesting to note that though Conor Oberst is a wildly-talented songwriter who will probably become a music legend before he’s done, he’s also a thoughtful and deeply philosophical kid—with a shy, endearingly little brother-ish quality about him. He’s quick to praise his friends, quick to displace credit, and blessed with a facile mind, which is likewise quick to wrap itself around new ideas. What follows is a transcript from that discussion we had that afternoon (which was, in fact, more of a conversation than an interview).

 

Conor’s sitting on the bed while I recline in a nearby chair in the gaudy Mandalay Bay penthouse suite the House of Blues set up for him. As Bill (the most on-task tour manager I’ve ever met) leaves the room and closes the door, Conor lights a cigarette and our talk begins:

So, I’ve been listening to your record and thinking about how there’s this paradox in that you tend to stick to very specific situations but use them to express universal themes. And this record does seem more universal than your last.

It wasn’t something I thought of, per se. Other than the general idea that that’s what makes music timeless, to have it be universal. I do feel, in regard to the whole overwrought teenage angst thing—or whatever they say about me—that it never bothered me really because that’s just where I was in my life and how I felt and maybe as you grow older you realize that not everything in life is that big of a deal.

Do you find yourself, having written so many songs now, thinking of yourself in the third person?

I don’t feel at all compelled to describe my personal self that much. If I do, I’m just as likely to describe someone else. I feel like pronouns are kind of interchangeable in my songs. You know, “I’s” and “you’s” and “she’s” and stuff—it’s not really where you’re going to find the meaning of the song.

[The phone rings. Conor looks around for a second, then answers the phone, saying, “No, he’s not here at the moment,” as if he might be in trouble for answering the phone. “I could, like, take a message. Oh, OK, then. Bye.” He sits back down on the bed and resumes his cigarette. “Sorry.” I laugh.]

Do you sometimes start to think about yourself as a character in the song? Whereas when you first did it, maybe you’d just think, “I want to say this thing.” But as you start to mature, you start to think about it like, “How is this going to come across to a listener?”

I am aware of that. You can use it to your advantage, for sure: your own persona or whatever. People like David Bowie or other songwriters I admire—I feel like at some point or another they get into that world of exploiting their own image or people’s idea of them. And I say: fair game, you know. If there’s any justice to the way you’re objectified in public life, it’s just turning it back on them like, “You’re seeing what you want to see.” The idea is not necessarily to show you my complete true self because, well, you can never do it in a three-minute song.

You did that some on Lifted… [Bright Eyes’ most recent record] where you talked about how fame or whatever persona is being projected on to you has affected you or how you felt about it. And your conclusion was sort of, “Fuck off. I’ll do whatever I want anyways.”

Yeah, I kind of felt that that had been played out. Me and my friends Tim Kasher [of Cursive and The Good Life] we were joking because he put out this record, The Ugly Organ, which is kind of a parallel with Lifted… in the sense of their disgust with what people think of you or what you’re expected to be and how it can corrode the pureness of what you’re trying to do, which is make music. After that, we agreed, “No more writing songs about writing songs.” Because it does get a little redundant. I’d like to get back to the point where I’m just describing life or the human condition or whatever you want to call it, as a human or as a person who’s living. And not as a songwriter or a celebrity or whatever. I’m human and I’m alive and I have friends and I love and I get angry and I do all the things everyone else does. And I can’t let the microscope, or whatever, take that away from me.

Is that part of why the Saddle Creek arrangement is the way it is?

Absolutely. It’s a safety net. It’s protection. It’s a wall against the industry.

[There’s a knock at the door, Conor gets up to answer it and a man walks in with room service cart. On the cart is a bagel, cream cheese, lox, mineral water and a beer. Conor tips him 10 bucks for the $14 meal. The man thanks him and leaves while Conor hovers over the food.]

You want any of this?

No thanks. Was there ever a point when you were like, “Being a rock star sucks. I don’t want it.”

[Stuffing a piece of bagel in his mouth] It wasn’t like we had that and went back to this. It was more like we were lucky enough to see it through example of friends on major labels. I just don’t think I would survive if I was signed to some big label and they put all this money behind me, and they want to get their money back. [He stands up straight and clears the hair from his eyes.] No matter what any fucking person from a big label tells you, regardless—I mean, maybe they like good music—but they’re not telling you the truth if they tell you they’re in it because they love music. They’re in it to make a buck. They have to be. It’s a business. There’s nothing wrong with that, but that’s what it is. You have to know that’s what it is. Because if you don’t, you’re going to buy into their shit and they’re going to end up fucking killing you.

It must keep you kind of grounded to do all this with your friends.

Yeah, and there’s no pressure to sell records. We just do what we want to do. And I know that the people that are working on the record and pushing the music aren’t there to make money off me. They’re there because they love me and they love what we’ve done and they know I love them and we’re doing this thing together. That’s it. There’s nothing else. So from a sales standpoint, it could all fall apart tomorrow and we wouldn’t feel any different about it. We wouldn’t feel like we failed or anything like that. It’s not some kind of grand moral stance, you know, “Fuck the corporations.” [He pauses, contemplating] I mean, fuck the corporations, because they’re greedy and they’re fucking horrible. But it’s totally pragmatic. I know I couldn’t deal with it. If I was at the mercy of one of those big labels telling me what to do, I just don’t do well with people telling me what to do. I think it would end in a disaster.

If you’re on Saddle Creek and you listened to the record and thought, “Oh there’s a single on here,” does being on Saddle Creek preclude you from getting any major radio airplay?

[He sits back down on the bed, becoming animated with the discussion of the industry about which he speaks with confidence] The way that that shit works is in order to even ante up and present your songs to a huge conglomerate commercial radio system, which is essentially Clear Channel and a few others—if you even want to be considered for those, you have to buy into these radio programs set up by radio promoters. And basically, bare minimum, you’re talking about a quarter of a million dollars to be even in that realm. You’ll get played to a certain extent, and then if your song is catchy or good or accessible and people like it, it’ll take off from there. But to even get into that world, you’re talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Really? I did this whole thing on Hot Hot Heat last year and I interviewed a programmer at KROQ and they were like, “We just liked that Hot Hot Heat song so we started playing it a lot.”

That’s bullshit.

Bullshit?

Bullshit

So, basically, they get a list and infinity Broadcasting [similar to Clear Channel, only smaller, owns KROQ] says you can only play people who work with radio promoters?

Yep. Essentially, that’s the way it works. I mean, it’s illegal, you know, payola. [Paying a radio station to get on the radio.]

So how is that not payola? Because it’s a third party?

Yeah, because you pay these radio promoters and the big radio conglomerates will only work with these radio promoters and then they work it out so they get a kickback from them.

It’s just payola, once-removed?

Yeah. That’s how they do it. And anyone who tells you different is lying to you. I know, because there were times—and we still think about it, because at this point we could come up with that kind of money. But, for one, it’s a huge gamble and you don’t know if it’s going to pay off. And that’s fine if you’re Interscope or whatever because you’ve got that money to play around with. But for us, that’s a big portion of the year’s proceeds that you’re paying just to get one song on the radio. And who knows what’s going to happen with that. Even with my record, when it was done Robb [Nansel, Saddle Creek’s business manager] said, “Here’s the deal man, do you want to do it?” And I was just like, “Fuck no.” So I doubt we’ll be played.

Your sales have basically doubled with each record, so if this record takes off just by what you’re doing now you sell, say 400,000 records in three months or something just by word of mouth, do you think you guys will do the radio buy?

No. Because I just don’t like commercial radio. I think it sucks. It just homogenizes all fucking creativity and all the positive vibe of music. It’s upsetting to me. I will never pander to that fucking kind of thing. And you also have to play their barbecues. Like, KROQ. Truly. Even if you have a single that’s kicking ass, unless you go play their show, they’ll pull it.

There’s always that mythical thing—people always throw that out. You know, “Nirvana changed radio.” Or, “Radiohead changed the parameters of popular music.” And that’s amazing. That’s beautiful. But I can’t bank on that with my own music. It’s just not for me. I just think it’s ridiculous how it’s set up. I just feel like, “If you like my song, then just fucking play it.” And I’m certainly not going to give them two hundred thousand dollars to consider playing it. That’s an insult to what I do.

OK, so the last song on the folk record, “Road to Joy.” You’ve said in the past that you didn’t like addressing political themes in your music because you thought they were preachy. But it seems like you found a happy medium with this new record. It’s more like you’ve chosen to focus on the personal ramifications of the war on the psyche of people who live here.

Yeah, because I’m not a politician. To me, the way politics influence me is the way they make me feel and change the world we are all living in, for better or worse. These days for the worse. It does affect your mind. It creeps into every aspect of your life. Everybody talks about fear with this stuff. And I’ll be the first to say, it’s fucking working. I’m more afraid than I’ve ever been. Even last night I was in this big-ass Vegas skyscraper and I woke up having this panic attack. Like, “I’m too high up in this building. And I can’t breathe. What if something explodes and I can’t find the staircase? And this hallway’s too long and all the doors looks the same.” I was just terrified. And they fucking did that to me. It fucking infuriates me. I just want to point out that it’s fucking bullshit.

I’ve always thought of you as being a kind of Chekhov figure. He seems to have this really keen understanding of the human condition: the conflicting desires, the conflicting emotions, the complexities and he has sympathy for it. I always think of your songs that way. You understand that frailty, but instead of being repulsed by it or judgmental of it, or indifferent to it, you’re endeared by it.

I think there is some truth to that. Sometimes it is endearing, just the humanity of it. I think it’s also fair to be repulsed by it too. I think the biggest thing I hope comes through with the songs in empathy for the fact that we’re all kind of in this together. And whatever plight or suffering you might feel, or have endured—everyone else has too. Maybe worse. Maybe more. Maybe less. I think that’s one great function of music and art and communicating through this abstract symbolism, is just that it can ring really true. It can soften the blow of living. You can realize that, OK, maybe some of life is completely unpleasant. But the fact that you can understand it and you can see it in other people and you can empathize with them, it softens the blow. I know that’s what I get out of listening to music.

In your song “Landlocked Blues”—the Laura character is lying on the bed, then gets up to go to the bathroom to either puke or do drugs or whatever the fuck she’s doing in there, and your line is, “It takes one to know one, kid. I think you’ve got it bad.” Which is a really kind thing to say. It’s not just understanding frailty, it’s empathizing with it.

Because that’s when you connect. For me, I don’t know why or how—and some people have tried to tell me—the easy answer is to try to pin it on Catholic guilt. But I don’t know, I never felt like much of a Catholic to begin with. But somehow, self-deprecation is something I have a love of. In understanding other people’s faults or writing about them in a loving way, you kind of forgive yourself too. You forgive your own. And realize we’re all a little broken. We’re all a little twisted. We’re all a little less than we could be or want to be. On the one hand, that’s making them feel better, but there’s also some selfishness to it of forgiving yourself and accepting yourself through your empathy for them.

Your songs can be very isolated and very desolate and lonely. But then on the other hand—probably more so than any other artist—there’s this community around you. 

They say, “You’re born alone and you die alone.” No matter what you’re doing or what you’re surrounded by—love, friends—you’re still living inside your own head. I think that’s where the isolation comes from. But to me, my salvation, the way I battle that feeling, my way of defeating that really overwhelming aloneness is by loving other people and being loved in return. And trying as best as I can to peel back the layers in hopes of being known to others. And peeling back their layers and knowing them. Through that you feel less alone.

Don’t you think you sort of seek out isolation? It seems like you’re actively seeking both at the same time: isolation and camaraderie.

I think that you need to engage both of those ideas as much as you can. On the one hand, you have to allow yourself enough time to really know yourself. But I mean…shit. I can’t…there are so many people in my life that if they for some reason decided to disown me, I would just crumble. Because I don’t really feel particularly strong on my own. I don’t feel capable of living in isolation. I don’t think I could. I mean, I’m fucking scared to be alone.

[He stares down at his hands for a minute, then unscrews the top to the beer bottle and takes a sip.]

Pop music is filled with all these inane fantasies and your music is often seen as the counterpoint to that. But in many ways, songs of yours like “On My Way to Work” or the “City Has Sex” are filled with fantasies where you’ll take what would normally be a really banal scene and make it come alive.

I think you have to. You have to be willing to use everything you see as symbolism. That’s a good point. My favorite author is Gabriel Garcia-Marquez—that magic-realism is really what I love. It’s all fantasy. Or the blurring or reality of fantasy. Where it doesn’t matter what’s reality or fantasy because you’re getting to the reality of the emotions of it. Sometimes describing something magically tells a lot more truth than just hard, cold realism. Because that’s the way it feels.

Anyone could write down every single thing specifically as it happens. But that’s not going to tell you why you read books or listen to music. And I love having inanimate objects come to life in songs. You know, talking to sidewalks or being teased by the clock or being ridiculed by the sound of footsteps walking away from me. To me, there’s a lot more realism in that.

Certain people are driven by that, it attracts a certain romantic type of person—people who crave to know and be known. Like there’s this tiny sliver when you’re alive and then you’re dead forever afterwards. And life’s the big fucking dance. Do you ever feel that way?

Yeah. I definitely feel the way you describe it. The very finite quality of life. You know, on a good day, it’s inspiring and it makes you want to not waste a fucking second. Because that’s what it is: wasteful. And, I guess, on a bad day, it’s just so terrifying that it just paralyzes me. That there is no permanence. One of the big themes of the Digital Ash record is the fear of death and how it infects every part of my life. It’s not even so much fear, as it is sorrow that you have to say goodbye to this stuff. I think that you can use that knowledge to defeat yourself or to push yourself forward and keep yourself going. The fact that there is—and here’s M. Ward again on his new album, “What are you gonna do? Where you gonna go when you don’t got space to fill? What are you gonna do with your time, now that you don’t got time to kill?” That’s it. You better fucking make a move while you got a chance. Because it’s not going to wait around for you to get comfortable with the idea of your mortality. You better just bust out the machete and start chopping through this shit and heading in some direction.

Do you ever feel like that kind of shit gets you in trouble? I mean, that sort of impetuousness can catch up with you.

I definitely feel just displaced or estranged from some life that a lot of people would fantasize about. But sometimes I fantasize about living a totally…you, know, being a carpenter or something. And I have no idea how to do anything physical like that. But I always thought it would be a cool job to make those coat trees sit in the corner in people’s houses. Just make really elaborate, beautiful coat trees. Something like that, that’s so undeniable and it’s such a function; no one’s going to look at that coat tree and argue its merit or discuss it in these terms that we’re discussing these songs. It just is. Sometimes I dream about that. Just being attached to something. Being like, grounded. I suppose. Because if anything, that’s what I lack. I don’t have nay place I have to be. And I don’t have anything I’m really responsible for. You know Mike Mogis, my buddy I make the records with—he and his girlfriend just had a baby last May. And I’ve just seen this intense change in Mike. It’s like he has a reason to live that’s so tangible and has so much more weight to it. I mean, sure I can say, “I have reasons to live.” I like my life, I guess. I like my friends. I love people. There are things I want to do. Things I want to see. Whatever. But it’s not like that. It’s not that really. It really doesn’t fucking matter what happens to me. But for him, it does. It matters what happens to him. And there’s something really attractive about that to me.

I used to think that writing a really good book or writing a good song is like winking at people from the grave. Afterwards, you’re dead and it’s 50 years or 100 years from now and you’re kind of going, “Hey man, I was alive too.”

That’s a cool thought.

Or, you can sort of become immortal by having kids.

Oh, totally. That’s just from the dawn of time, procreation—it’s like that fucking silly way that everyone names their kids the same fucking name. The whole heir to yourself. You want to find a way to keep living. Not that I have any idea—every year that passes I’m so much less certain about what’s going to happen when I’m dead.

I mean, I’ve spent so much of my life fearing that I would be trapped in some kind of mediocre, suburban fucking boring typical life. I’ve been so afraid of that, like, “God, that would be the worst thing.” But then, on the other hand, you start thinking about there’s a fucking reason most people choose that. It’s kind of like, that’s almost the natural course. I mean, not the modern stuff—not the sub-divisions and the data-entry jobs—that stuff’s just poison. That shit’s just sad. But the other part, the making a family and creating this thing that’s part of you, but is also gives meaning to your life and makes you selfless and makes you want to work, makes you dedicate your life to this cause that’s no longer your whims and your wants or whatever. It’s just the way it is. If there’s anything I dream about, it’s that. But then at the same time I’m fucking terrified of it. And if I ever was given the opportunity to have it, I’m sure I would squander it.

Bill walked back into the room at that point and it was time for soundcheck. We all said our so-longs and agreed to meet up at the show. I went back down the big elevator and wandered through the casino staring at all the blinking lights and the sirens and the people and the televisions until I came upon the crowd of kids waiting in the corner to get into the Bright Eyes show. And there they were, a rag-tag cross-section of the Pepsi Generation sitting on the floor twenty feet from all the noise and static, demanding attention on the casino floor. And none of them appeared particularly interested in sneaking off to place a bet or walk among the dizzying lights to become lost in the heady traffic of yammering people near the bar. They just seemed to want to hang out together in the corner, hoping for a glimpse of Conor, a glimpse of each other, a moment of engagement, a moment—even among the screaming, gaudy spectacle all around them—of something real.

Hell, I felt that way too.