I originally wanted to make this into a Things I Like video about Airborne Toxic Event's self-titled album for our YouTube channel. Then that idea was whittled down to just being about their hit “Sometime Around Midnight” (and I don't care if that makes my taste basic—the song is a masterpiece). Then that idea resulted into a flood of other ideas I thought would be a big enough deal to warrant an article. Before I get into it, I do want to talk about how much I love it, and I promise I'm going somewhere with this.
“Sometime Around Midnight” is a story compressed into a five-minute and four-second song. Basically, Mikel Jollett runs into his ex at a bar and realizes he's still in love with her. She's acting like she's having the greatest time in the world with some other guy, while he's remembering how she looked when she was his.
The beat starts off slow as he's describing the encounter. He starts getting bolder when he sees her leave with someone he doesn't know and his blood's boiling and his stomach's in ropes. Then in the most angst-filled way he shouts, “Then you walk under the streetlights / And you're too drunk to notice that everyone's / Staring at you / You just don't care what you look like / The world is falling around you.” Then he ends with telling himself over and over again “You just have to see her” even though he knows it'll break him in two.
Outside of the genius lyrics, angsty vocals, and master instrumentals, there was something else I liked about this song, but I couldn't articulate it right away.
Finally I realized I liked it because I had this experience too. This song was one of the things that helped me get through every past breakup. I felt understood. I couldn't imagine not having this song in my life at that time. Yeah, I'd survive it and move on, but there's something so special about a song that resonates with you when you need it.
Back in 2012 when I was getting ready to graduate, budget cuts to our arts programs (among others) were finally coming around—or at least, finally being talked about publicly. Around the same time my school was shoving the going to college route down our throats on top of pushing kids towards math and science fields. My family was also telling me to study something practical, instead of art. I genuinely think they both meant well. The school was probably just looking at stats and saw the growing need to fill those jobs in the next few years. My family wanted to make sure I could get a job. I get it.
Science and math make vital contributions to our lives on a daily basis that I am grateful for, but hear me out: Not everything you do is required to result in massive change that affects the lives if billions of people. That's a lot of pressure. By no means does art cure disease, stabilize economies, or save the world from meteors.
But that song might mean the world to one person. A poem might help that person put words to what they're feeling and help them make sense of what they're going through. That reassurance that we're not alone unites us. It's invaluable insight—especially now, in a social climate hell-bent on driving us apart and pointing out our differences rather than what we share.
A friend once made a comment that history was written by the winners—those who are first get to write how it happened. The runners-up just get to push the winners' narrative. That story is a recounting of what the winners consider to be important to pass on to future generations.
Art is by the underdogs. (There are some elitist jerks and gatekeepers who say otherwise, but this doesn't include them.) You want know what people cared about? What they were hoping for? Afraid of? Mull over the lyrics to that song, pick up a chapbook or a novel, or go to an art exhibit. Entire art movements sprout up because people want to be heard.
Art exists on the margins outside of statistics. The answers we give can't always be charted or graphed. What gets you through that breakup can't be found under a microscope. Your joy isn't always a result of careful calculation.
Sometimes you just need to be told, “I get it.”
I doubt that's the reaction to “Sometime Around Midnight” that Mikel Jollett intended, but well, here it is.