Sunday, August 5, 2018

Remedies: Steve Earle's CCKMP

Purchase Steve Earle's CCKMP

A stark, unforgiving and unrepentant reflection on drug addiction and personal destruction: I cannot think of another song so blatantly unapologetic in directly speaking of the reasons for , effect and legacy of drug abuse than Steve Earle's 1996 song "CCKMP (Cocaine Cannot Kill My Pain)."

The song is dark and disturbing, a funeral dirge, and one of Earle's most direct and earnest narratives in a career that has gloriously reveled in using song as story.

I have to say, for a long time, I wasn't sure what the song meant to accomplish on a narrative or artistic level. That is, until I started to think of it in terms of what Earle was doing as a writer rather than a singer. It's not really persona adoption, where an author gives us the means to understand a life, a personality and motivations we don't have the direct access or ready evidence to understand. The recreation of a life the consumer (listener or reader, I suppose is better) doesn't know is the basis of creative work, the lifeblood and reason narrative--be it song, story, poem, painting, or sculpture--exists. We read (or look at or listen) to the stories of others so we can understand. Art creates not a forgiveness or a justification so much as an understanding and a sense of empathy. That's why we go to art: to learn what others know through a vicarious experience. This is also a notion that has come under attack with increasing indignation lately. I feel like we're wading in territory of intolerance and victimhood that threatens to drown us and thus, end the artists' ability to explore and bring to the life the story of others and shed light into places that few of us know.  Intolerance is a singular animal, destructive to others, regardless of the motivation or what political or social spectrum it stems from. If we kill voices, or worse, lay exclusive claim to certain stories or voices, we risk losing the stories entirely. To illustrate my point, I direct you to this article from the New York Times. I'm not really sure what the problem is: be it a lived experience or an imagined one, if it is an experience others can benefit from living, even just on a page, it is most likely valuable. So, Earle is allowed to give us this dark slice of addiction and despair because it is his own experience of both.  However, this tangible hold on addiction doesn't give the author exclusive rights to the story, does it?

Of course, what I find refreshing about Steve Earle's "CCKMP" is the visceral rawness of the experience he presents. He doesn't have to explain himself, he just gives us a story that is his story. Or was. Earle is famously clean and sober now and works hard to help others out of the place he was once trapped in. His own experiences gave rise to this simple, uncompromising reflection on his own addiction. Of course, he owns the story and the pain that colors it, and by sharing it, he does shine light into a dark corner we don't know. Earle can give us this story because he lived it and thus owns the scars. But, the artist's job is to do this: let us understand the pain that causes the scars in hopes we don't inflict the same on ourselves. Art is meant to bring experience to life; if the artist has lived the experience, they have every right to it. If they haven't, can we still appreciate their efforts to interpret and bring to life the experiences of others? I'd say yes, resoundingly so. Without art, without interpretation in attempt to understand, what would we know?

blog comments powered by Disqus