Greatsong Tangent – Tame Impala

I am a shy, introverted person. These may seem like redundant descriptors, but they are not! Only with the passing years have I been able to separate the two – and to begin to properly understand each of these aspects of my personality. The wisdom I have accrued by my aging has allowed me to realize that shyness represents a tremendously frustrating personal shortfall, and introversion a tremendously comforting personal strength. Shyness is a strange and embarrassing condition. It’s literally a fear of interacting with people. I feel it all the time. I often find mental ways to avoid approaching strangers, even when my intentions are pure. It’s a shameful and devastating thing to go through life scared of your fellow man and woman. If I think too hard about all the missed opportunities – all the brief windows I failed to propel myself through – I fall into a deep, despondent funk. However, when I am pushed to interact – by friends, situations, or a voice within myself – the results are often unexpectedly good. The fears that keep me from reaching out – irrational fears of catastrophic humiliation and confrontation, as well as more insidious, pervasive fears of awkwardness and being misunderstood – are for the most part, cruel and immaterial phantoms. However, on the other side of the coin is introversion. There has been some rather incisive internet scholarship about my introverted ilk – articles I was unaware of that made me jump up and say “That’s me!” (drawing suspicious looks from my then-coworkers). I do indeed feel drained when I am around people too long, even ones I like. But introversion is about more than just social interaction and the exchange of energy. Being an introvert can also mean cultivating an intense and joyful love of solitude. Some hear the word “alone” and picture a solitary, slumped figure sighing heavily in a darkened room. No Way! Solitude can mean total acceptance and love of yourself removed from social context. The encumbering thoughts of others fall away, comparisons and social codes become meaningless. Loneliness becomes a paper tiger. Sensation and thought become rich and sensuous as sweet nurturing wine. No one can touch you and you can freely enjoy the boundless possibilities of simply existing. Which brings us to Tame Impala, who have crafted an introvert’s anthem for the ages – the blissed-out, sun-dappled, psychedelic jam “Solitude is Bliss” from 2010’s Innerspeaker. The song begins innocently enough, with a phased guitar riff and spacious drumming. The narrator’s first few lines seem like the half-bitter ruminations of a jilted lover or feuding friend. However as he continues, it becomes clear that something is very, very wrong. When he singsongs

I care less and less about and less about you

He’s singsonging about everybody! This guy wants to be all alone! We can’t allow this! He continues along this dangerous path, poisonously spouting

All the kids that I can’t compare to

Making friends like you’re all supposed to

What kind of message is that? Everyone knows that loners are damaged people – unfit for society! They kidnap children and send mail bombs and shoot up schools! How dare Tame Impala promote this kind of behavior!? Kevin Parker has indeed struck a blow for those who proudly enjoy their own company – offering a potent counterpoint to what the overbearing extrovert orthodoxy would have everyone believe. Concerning the song, Parker has said:

It was the most uplifting pop song. It’s the most sassy, confident sounding song. I like to think of it as coked up Tame Impala. It’s quite overconfident. You know, most of my lyrics aren’t as confident as that song. It’s almost arrogant I guess, but it is intended to be extremely confident because it’s about being alone and how confident you are when you’re alone.” The meaning of the song is “how awesome it can be to be inside your own head, how peaceful and enlightening it can be; good for the soul.” and “like bathing in the glory of being alone, like, ‘How great is this? I’m alone!’ 1

I know these feelings well. Society can be an exhausting mistress. I can often achieve a high level of peace on my own, to the point where it seems profane and unfair to verbalize or quantify the experience for anyone else. Still, when asked “What did you do this weekend?” I look into the hungry eyes of my well-meaning interrogator and realize I have to give them something, but I’m not sure what. How can I possibly explain the bliss of quietly reading over a simple breakfast and hot cup of tea? If I rhapsodize grandiloquently, my audience will think I’m weird. If I downplay and evade, I will doing an injustice to my own worth. Perhaps it’s this frustration that leads Parker to dreamily, yet boldly proclaim

YOU WILL NEVER COME CLOSE TO HOW I FEEL

So what seems like a mellow beach-sunset jam full of horizon-wide melodic vocals, busy-yet-expansive drumming, gentle guitar and bass lines and reverb-a-plenty is actually more of a misanthropic mission statement. Kevin Parker doesn’t need your presence, he doesn’t want to live up to your standards or take part in your phony-bologna interactions. He is just fine being alone. And to be honest, many of us introverts feel the same way. Our attitude may not always be so aggressive as

There’s a party in my head

And no one is invited

But sometimes it has to be. So much of modern life – cell phones, social networking, videochat, advertising, team-building, texting, travel, holidays, TV and film – unabashedly lionizes camaraderie, love, the human touch, cooperation, warmth, family and all things interpersonal. The underexplored side-effect of all this touchy-feely togetherness is that it can make the introverted feel like pariahs, recluses, defective people lacking in warmth and human affection, people unworthy of love and company. In other words, like shit. One has to burrow deep into Buddhist thought, Carlos Castaneda and other obscure corners to find quiet solitude and self-contentment celebrated with anything approaching the same fervor. That is why “Solitude is Bliss” is such a masterstroke. It is self-acceptance cloaked in the guise of social music. There is an open subtext for introverts in the song, a defiant and potent reminder that we have the right to be happy being alone. Shyness, is a curse. I would love to be able to approach and talk to anyone. However, I don’t want to give the impression that my introversion is some kind of defense mechanism born out of my fear of people. It is not. While Introversion and solitude are ways of being that I would not have explored as extensively without the prompting of shyness, they were always there. There is a deep part of my nature that generates exquisite waves of harmony when provided with adequate space and time. If I am around people for too long it, is the opposite. I become irritable, indecisive and anxious. I want to run and hide in a place where

Nothing else matters

I don’t care what I miss

A quiet, still place. Alone. For us, the introverted, Kevin Parker’s message is right-on. For many of us

Company’s okay

Solitude is bliss

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