Withdrawal

My psyche is not happy with me walking away from this project. Actually, it’s probably just not willing to give up the activity. The surest signal of what you want in life is what you actually do when presented with the freedom to do whatever you want.

So here I am, on an August Sunday morning, at my favorite spot near the lake, doing what I do most days, just writing what comes to mind, or in some cases what has haunted me in recent hours.

Maybe this is one of those Tolkienesque fourth or fifth endings to the project I wrapped up. Or maybe it’s a reconsideration of what the project was really all about. Or maybe it’s just habit. Who cares? You are no more required to read as I am to write. Yet, here we are.

I’m surprised that I’d never drawn the connection between Lana Del Rey’s “Norman Fucking Rockwell” and the Anima in a previous piece. Maybe it’s because I covered LDR earlier and discovered Anima later. It’s impossible for me to hear “Mariner’s Apartment Complex” and consider Jung’s concept. It’s both a full embrace and a fascinating role reversal — LDR doesn’t just declare “I’m your man,” she describes her influence just as Jung did in his initial writing and the Animus. Is that the state of male/female relations in this age, where a woman needs to step up as a man’s Animus to give him the strength to make him whole? Traditional Jungians would probably argue that LDR is just Animus possessed and is attempting to pass on these masculine archetypes to the men around her. Even so, that’s a rare stance for a female artist to take. Perhaps Beyoncé went there a bit in “Lemonade,” which I might ponder later.

The neo-Jungians have been skeptical of Jung’s Animus for decades, and it’s sexism is undeniable. But I’ve never seen it used as brazenly by a woman, one who reluctantly assumes the goddess role on the album’s first track, now declare herself a man’s true Animus. It’s a fascinating role appropriation.

The men in this album are hopelessly lost, best of all in “How To Disappear,” where she contrasts the existentially lost men with those immersed in exhausting, inevitably pointless combat with life. LDR is clearly on the side of the pointless over the hopeless, but the song ends wistfully with a fictionalized LDR settled with a family promising not to disappear, even though she can’t bring herself to say the words.

“California” then features a “scared to win, scared to lose” man whose depression only becomes fully apparent to her after she sneaks a look at one of his letters to someone else (which I love for it’s probably unintentional allusion to “Persona.”) Her response that depression is a promise to take him out partying, which doesn’t seem remotely helpful, but makes for a reasonably commercial modern pop song.

The whole album seems to have been written in the shadow of the Lady Gaga/Bradley Cooper update of “A Star is Born.” This is never more obvious than in “The Next Great American Record” which also chokes me up for its lovely affection for Generation X, something you don’t get from many Millennials. Here, LDR is supporting an older man “70s in spirit, 90s in this frame of mind” who needs reassurance that he’s an equal partner in whatever joint venture they are building.

This leads into the album’s epic centerpiece, the masterful ode to a disappearing world “The Greatest.” It’s more haunting today than the day it came out. The song now reminds me of the bittersweet musical number at the end of Bob Fosse’s “All That Jazz” where Fosse’s dead alter ego says goodbye to life and everyone he knew in it. (It’s actually not THAT devastating — the end of “All That Jazz” kills me every time.) But the song ending with “oh, the livestream’s almost on” seems today like a scary prophesy of 2020.

To be honest, “The Greatest” reaches such an emotional high that I pretty much sleep walk through the rest of the record from here. That’s probably not fair. The songs become a little more personal in the final quarter, less about the men around LDR than her attempt to stay centered while dealing with them. There’s probably no better way to end the album than “hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have,” even though 1) it’s an interesting nod to Fiona Apple just as she’s about to walk away from this style of piano ballad and 2) for an album that has focused so strongly on the men in her life, none of them are around for the close, with the possible exception of the monsters under her bed that she alludes to late in the song. I admire her for declaring herself unhappy but not sad and full of hope.

These days, that’s not just difficult, it’s downright heroic.

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