hell is other people, but heaven is, too

January 9th, 2012 by | Tags: ,

I tripped over a reference to the video for El-P’s “Time Won’t Tell” off his Weareallgoingtoburninhellmegamixxx3, directed by Shan Nicholson, by accident the other day and thought to myself, “Oh, it’s my favorite video from last year.” I don’t know when I decided that, or if I’d ever been consciously aware of that fact before now, but it’s true. I watch a lot of music videos, and this is the one this year that grabbed me the most.

Part of it is El-P’s production. El is easily the best at making sinister sounding tracks. A lot of classic songs sound like impending violence, like somebody’s about to get his whole head bust outside of the club. El-P makes joints that sound like the beginning of Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia or the cityscapes from Blade Runner or Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira look. They sound like impending doom on a level far beyond DMX barking in your ear about how you didn’t ride, so you must wanna die arf arf arf.

It’s the way the bass pulses and buzzes under the track, and just how dirty and dusty everything sounds. It sounds processed, but like it was fed through a meat grinder, not Pro Tools. The drums are messy, there’s a throbbing horn infesting the middle part of the track, and a wail that hints at something horrible. And then, at 2:10, the track takes a breath and comes back majestic.

Nicholson’s direction clinches the deal, though. The beginning is a tour, as we follow this kid around town and check out foreclosed homes, decrepit section 8 homes, the presence of authority figures as something to fear, and generally just life in the projects. It feels lonely, because this kid never interacts with anyone and looks uncomfortable around the people he does run into. The long shots of him walking alone push that loneliness even further, begging you to extrapolate a little.

He walks past four kids who then follow him around town and the suspense kicks up. The first thought to come to mind was one of danger, of kids who goose step over innocence. He grabs the mattress, the kids follow, and you know something bad is going to happen. And then it doesn’t, it’s just some kids playing together and having a good time. The first kid has something dope and the other kids appreciate it.

And jeez, man, I can relate. Boy, can I relate. We’re trained to think of other humans as possible threats. You stand real close to the ATM, you ignore strangers in public, you don’t wear short skirts, you practice defensive driving, you don’t make eye contact in the street, you get told to stay away from that white girl, you wonder if that guy is really talking about monkeys or if he’s just dog-whistling, you push forward on the sidewalk with your head down and dare people to not get out of your way, you sign a pre-nup when you get married, and your heart skips a beat when you hear footsteps behind you on a dark night, all because “what if something happened???”

I know what it’s like to be a lonely, skinny black kid. I went to two elementary schools, four middle schools, and three high schools. The longest time I spent in one house after elementary school was my last two years of high school. I’ve been the new guy, the guy who doesn’t get to hang because he wasn’t there when the group formed. I’ve been the guy who didn’t want the new guy in the crew.

But sometimes you connect to other people off the back of stupid things like comic books or music or jumping on a mattress out where the factories used to be and just vibe and things are wonderful. I remember as a kid, there was this big mound of red clay that the neighborhood boys would use as a bike ramp. I never did it–the thought of going in the air on my bike terrified me, and I’d had a bad bike wreck shortly after moving in–but we would hang out and that would be our sun. I have other memories–the woods between our school and our hood or the filthy creek near the dumpster where we found a gang of playboys or the youth center on base–where the “we” involved is different every time.

It’s nice when people actually connect with each other, no matter the catalyst. This video is as good a depiction of what it looks and feels and sounds like to let other people in as you’ll ever see.

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One comment to “hell is other people, but heaven is, too”

  1. awesome video, awesome song, awesome post. now i’m off to check out El-P’s other stuff.