Σάββατο, 5 Ιουνίου 2010

The Stranger: Camus vs. The Cure

Last week I mentioned the idea of starting a rock and roll book club to discuss songs based on literature. The inspiration came after finishing The Stranger on the subway one morning; my mind was subsequently a bit distracted and so I tried to transition into a day of work by listening to The Cure’s “Killing an Arab.”


The gimmick worked, but not how I expected it would. Instead of a gradated transition back into normalcy, the song snapped me out of my absurdist reverie all at once. The track’s mood was so incongruent with the mood the book left me in, I couldn’t tell the two were related at all.

Robert Smith likes to read the book while performing.

Robert Smith likes to read the book while performing.

Personally, I react to both literature and music in a similar manner, as more of a visceral, emotional response than an intellectual reaction. I hardly ever digest lyrics on a first listen and, even for songs I know by heart, I rely on the music to tell me how the singer’s feeling. So when Aretha Franklin sings “Eleanor Rigby” I forget to feel somber, and when Har Mar Superstar does a funky remix of “Alone Again (Naturally)” I feel like I’m having the time of my life amid a throng of dancers.

My primary response to The Stranger was aloofness, but not as a result of having different values than society. It was more a detachment from my thoughts. The cadence of the short, Hemingway-esque sentences made me realize how loopy, inefficient and paralyzing thinking usually is. If this were a Buddhist text, there would have been some encouragement to laugh at the silliness of thought, but Camus provides no such pat on the back. The sun and the heat get to Meursault on that beach and he, in turn, left me feeling stuck in the doldrums, waiting for a breeze to come along and dislodge me.

Do NOT do  what the sun tells you to.

Do NOT listen to what the sun tells you do.

On the other hand, The Cure’s song got me pumped up. As soon as that bass riff reaches the bottom of its descent and the rest of the band comes in, I felt like running. It makes sense within the context of a rock concert, but it doesn’t fit well with the book. There are three figures in the song: the bass riff that opens and closes the track, the 8-beat drone with some movement along with the crash cymbals on the 7 and the 8, and the few occasional measures where the chord and drum beat change. It’s actually a good formula for mimicking Meursault’s repetitive narrative style. The lyrics, which are choppy and, for the most part, stick to objective observations, also match well with the book’s tone. But I never got an adrenaline rush reading the book, not even when Meursault pulls the trigger or attacks the champlain in his prison cell…and adrenaline is one thing The Cure lay on pretty thick.

For me, a slower and more electronic interpretation of this tune would bring it closer to what I get from Camus. That said, I’m grateful The Cure were there that morning to snap me out of existential indifference.

What do you think?

“Killing an Arab” lyrics:

Standing on the beach
With a gun in my hand
Staring at the sea
Staring at the sand
Staring down the barrel
At the Arab on the ground
I can see his open mouth
But I hear no sound

Chorus:
I’m alive
I’m dead
I’m the stranger
Killing an Arab

I can turn
And walk away
Or I can fire the gun
Staring at the sky
Staring at the sun
Whichever I choose
It amounts to the same
Absolutely nothing

Chorus

I feel the steel butt jump
Smooth in my hand
Staring at the sea
Staring at the sand
Staring at myself
Reflected in the eyes
Of the dead man on the beach
The dead man on the beach

Chorus

from Wolfgangsvault.com