Sunday Songs: Okkervil River – “Our Life is Not a Movie or Maybe”


Last night. In the wake of the news of LCD Soundsystem’s reunion, I decided to revisit the fantastic documentary about their farewell, Shut Up and Play the Hits.

A friend and I saw the film at Seattle’s Cinerama when it was first released, and the thing that struck me most was how weary James Murphy seemed. He’d always been weary, of course. That was half his charm, wrapping sentiments about exhaustion with all sorts of phenomena into dance music is what gave songs like “All My Friends” its edge. But as he walked away, he seemed well beyond done.


The weird thing about having your life documented in detail, by yourself or someone else, is how it allows time to compress and expand. How a month can feel like two years, only to have the next week feel like a heartbeat. How you can have perfect recall about days on end, only to have a moment hours later disappear into the ether.

Time always plays tricks on us, of course. I can remember the five months I spent living in New York more vividly than the two and a half years after I moved back. I was thinking about that recently, about the apartment I lived in after returning, and it’s funny how much eludes me. More than 900 nights there—almost as long as I lived in my mother’s current home—and I can barely remember cooking anything.


My cell phone is a weird mish-mash of history, the sort of jumble that happens when you keep importing contacts from phone to phone since at least 2002. Some names are people I haven’t seen since I was still a teenager, others are people I’ve recently met, and yet more are people who came somewhere in between, and have since been forgotten. My contact photo of a cousin is from a visit he paid me shortly after his 13th birthday, and he’s graduating college later this year. In my phone, my sister wears a wedding dress and a smile.

A rather brilliant xkcd a few years back explained the structure of cell phone numbers, but it’s not as true as I used to believe, for whatever reason. Importing contacts into social media leads to a strange jumble of familiar and not, as though a percentage of my former friends and well-wishers have been transmogrified into random strangers. Every so often, a notification will pop up on my phone: “Your contact So-and-So just joined Twitter!”

So-and-so is increasingly unfamiliar.


Whatever insight I hoped to find in regards to James Murphy’s change of heart, it wasn’t there. His face looked as tired as ever, and his explanations to Chuck Klosterman as to why he walked away sounded no less resolute. He was done. And now, he’s isn’t.

Everyone can changed their minds, of course. Everyone can move on, and everyone can come back around. His decision to return doesn’t invalidate the joy on the faces of his fans as he brought the house down in Madison Square Garden, and it brings some more joy into my life, knowing I’ll have the chance to see him once again.

But you have to wonder: Would the backlash have been as severe if he hadn’t chronicled his retirement so thoroughly?

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