Toad the Wet Sprocket are purveyors of fine pop-rock music. A couple of weeks ago, their song "Throw It All Away" piped through my car's audio system with all of the soothing gusto of 90s and 00s pop. The song is like a manifesto against materialism and for not being manipulated by the marketers, bad preachers, and politicos: figure out what you really need to be happy and throw the crap away. To be sure, in a culture ruled by amorphous economic forces, this song is like an act of sedition against the dominant narratives, and it's a perfect New Year's song.
Every year we reflect on what our lives have come to over the last 365 days, anticipating what we want our lives to come to in the next 365 days and beyond. So we come up with personal resolutions to guide us (and you can buy books to help you do this!). The typical problems with these are that they are either too trivial to matter, they quickly become new reasons to feel badly about ourselves when we don't follow through on them, or they only buy into the popular narrative about wealth and success. To be sure, I think that assessing and reassessing the priorities and virtues of our lives is totally necessary. I mean, part of what messes me up is when I don't even realize what trajectory my life is on, then by the time I realize how stuck I am it feels nearly impossible to change. So I'm putting this song up as a challenge to you and to me, as well: throw it all away, except for the things that really matter.
"Take the story you've been sold, the lies that justify the pain, the guilt that weighs upon your soul and throw 'em all away."
For example, our culture is so market-driven that we don't even know how compromised we are until something jars us--and maybe not even then. In the early days after 9/11/01, the President was asked what ordinary Americans could do in response to the tragedy, but the best he could suggest was for us to "Keep going to the store and keep buying things." Holy crap! The best response to a national tragedy is to buy stuff? It says a lot about our cultural identity that instead of being asked to sacrifice, we were asked to accumulate. Sadly, there are preachers and their followers who've drunk the same Kool-Aid. Some of them have suggested that God willed some folks' economic prosperity either because of some arbitrary notion about a predetermined purpose because a superior faith has brought them wealth. These of course imply that God willed that others would struggle financially because their faith wasn't as deep, because God wanted to teach them a lesson, or because God had some other unknown reason in God's capricious distribution of wealth. All of this assumes that wealth or poverty is because God planned it that way (to which I say, "I spit in your general direction!"). It kills me when I hear somebody address their well-off status by saying, "We've been blessed." I mean, havent we all been blessed in many, many ways that don't show up in our tax returns or home inventories. Why not dispense with the sanctimonious false humility and just say, "I worked hard," "I invested well," "I inherited a lot," "I made good decisions," "I couldn't have done it without that small business subsidy," "I was at the right place at the right time," or "I'm really a good criminal"? (or whichever combination applies?). Did God really choose to bless some more than others? "We've been blessed" is just a religious-sounding platitude that supports the idea that the things that really matter can be evaluated in financial terms. So, at the time of year when we assess our lives, maybe we should evaluate how compromised we really are and maybe we should assess how full of crap we are, too!
So when Toad tells us that "There is nothing you can buy, there is nothing you can save to fill the hole inside your heart, so throw it all away," they are challenging the authority of the economy. Their suggestion to "burn your t.v. in the yard and gather 'round it with some friends and warm your hands up on the fire and start again" is an act of sedition--how else will they tell us what they want of us if we stop watching t.v.? What happens if we start getting together and sharing our stuff as a community of friends instead of accumulating in our isolation from everyone else? For sure, I am as guilty in this as anybody. I am not wealthy, though I have more than many (most?), so for me to ponder what I need to throw away in my life involves some choices and risks. I guess I'm dealing with my own series of transitions for this new year, and the one thing I've learned is that there is a lot more to life than being a commodity or mere client of life.
If there is to be any change in how my life flows, then it probably invovles some risks and some unconventioinal thinking. "Take your cautionary tales and take your incremental gains and all the sycophantic games and throw 'em all away." It also means that I might have to be willing to embrace the beauty of a life where I don't have ultimate control. Sure I make my choices, but that doesn't meant that everything in life can be scripted. In fact, maybe I need to stop getting so worked up over my schedule that I forget to pay attention to the creative possibility of any given moment. "Tear up the calendar you bought and throw the pieces to the sky, confetti falling down like rain like a parade to usher in your life." Geez, until I wrote this, I didn't realize how much I need to look at things differently.
"Throw It All Away" (Glenn Phillips)Take your cautionary tales
And take your incremental gain
And all the sycophantic games
And throw 'em all away
Burn your tv in your yard
And gather 'round it with your friends
And warm your hands upon the fire
And start again
Take the story you've been sold
The lies that justify the pain
The guilt that weighs upon your soul
And throw 'em all away
Tear up the calendar you bought
And throw the pieces to the sky
Confetti falling down like rain
Like a parade to usher in your life
Take the dreams that should've died
The ones that kept you lying awake
When you should've been all right
And throw 'em all away
With the time i waste on the life i never had
I could've turned myself into a better man
There is nothing you can buy
And there is nothing you can save
To fill the hole inside your heart
So throw it all away
Help me to empty this house
The wool i've gathered all these days
And thought i couldn't do without
And throw it all away