The ardent hero is defeated. He has surrendered to his calling and holds his community above himself. But he is grateful.
In his youth, he raged, seeing things not as they were, but as he was. And he reacted with cynicism, laughing at the absurdity of society. He laughed uncomfortably, because he had no idea what he was doing on earth.
But he learned to laugh at himself and admit that his scorn was the byproduct of solitude and pain.
The hero forgets being pissed at having been plopped, naked and wet, into being. His humor manifests as love and the recognition that he is nothing without the world, and that pain is a funny motherfucker whose act works better in front of a crowd. The hero dies as a man and is reborn as a member, a grain of sand in the keystone of his culture.
So, I've bastardized Joseph Campbell and added my own spin, but I'm no hero and I'm not under any obligation to make the world a better place. Such is modern sense of individuality-an extreme sort of Grover Norquist self-reliance in which an everyday, brother's-keeper kind of hero is hard to find. But there are moments when we act better than we are.
Bob Dylan had a moment with Time Out of Mind. That the Recording Academy took more than 30 years to give Dylan a Grammy was proof of its incompetence, but Time is Dylan's greatest album-his most honest and moving. It's the point where he left behind the jokes about misdirected politicians and wayward women, and came to terms, with lines like, "I know I can't win, but my heart just won't give in, last night I danced with a stranger, but she just reminded me you were the one."
Dylan is no hero, but his music makes us feel as though we could be better people, and that's heroic.
Which brings us, at last, to Modest Mouse and the band's coming release, Good News for People Who Love Bad News. The album's not heroic, either-the band a little too conscious of what they're doing. But they've come a long way from their 1996 debut, This is a Long Drive For Someone With Nothing to Think About, a bluegrass-inspired, punkish mope-rock tribute to sarcasm and dark humor.
That first tryst with music was moody and often obscure, and Isaac Brock has the plaintive voice of a sinful man dying in a hospital. But the album made more use of tone and texture than tempo and idle cleverness.
Good News is a whole other thing: a "No Exit" look at the world in which the band decides heaven and hell are in the mind, and if you're going to do anything great, you'd better do it now. Musically, it starts with ambient vulnerability, but quickly gets heavy and distinct. In word, Brock tells knee-slappers to Pluto: "When my free time ends, will you just please bury me with it."
So, the "Good News" is that everyone dies-even joggers, artists and sages-and that pain is universal, so learn to love it. Or, in the world according to Brock: "If life's not beautiful without the pain, well I just would rather never even see beauty, again."
Then the interlude: a drifting accordion over a sliding upright bass and a baby who cries.
Modest Mouse levels its own hell-on-earth, Charles Bukowski philosophy with an Orphic gusto, recognizing that things are the way they should be because they are the way they are. And while the past is hopeless, the future is a newborn crying and a mother laughing at what she has created. (Even Bukowski is purged by naming a track after him and calling him an asshole).
The ephemeral accomplishment of Good News is only a sidebar to the fact that this is the Modest Mouse album many have been waiting for. The petulant foursome admits that every note's been played, every progression written, and the clever thing is to rip the right bands. For their heist, Modest Mouse chose early Talking Heads, The Clash and Tom Waits.
More than anyone, they rip Waits, the gravedigger of Rain Dogs who stows you away on a train with a traveling circus where freaks crackle their instruments in the perpetually impending storm of night.
There is also the influence of the Big Easy's Dirty Dozen Brass Band on "This Devil's Workday" and "The Good Times are Killing Me," featuring the Flaming Lips' Dave Fridmann on the mixing board.
But at its heart, Good News is still Modest Mouse, silly and proud, SoCal punk, Northwest grunge and backwoods bluegrass.
The album doesn't make you want to be a better person, but it does remind you that your occasional scorn for the world probably has more to do with you than other people. Like the poem "America," in which Allen Ginsberg, after a lengthy chiding of the nation's 1950s ideological dogma, writes, "Then it occurs to me that I am America; I am talking to myself again."Good News For People Who Love Bad News will be released April 16. Modest Mouse plays with Helio Sequence at Soma March 22. The show is sold out.