You may have heard about John Vanderslice through a bit of controversy involved with a prank he pulled upon the release of his debut album, Mass Suicide Occult Figures. Vanderslice claimed that he was being sued by Microsoft because of a track titled “Bill Gates Must Die.” As such, he became something of a small-time news phenomenon for a short time until he admitted to the false nature of his claims.
In pulling a practical joke on the media by jokingly pitting himself against a major technological corporation, Vanderslice has painted a portrait of himself as a man who feels isolated in this modern world. He elaborates on this self-portrait in his sophomore album Time Travel is Lonely. In the song “My Old Flame” he uses contemporary, pop culture imagery to convey a sense of loneliness and desolation. In particular, when describing the old house he and his wife once shared he sings, “our old house / everything’s changed / bleached out and aired, ikea-d and swept bare.” The concept that their house has been “ikea-d” conveys that it has been modernized, but as a result it has also been “swept bare” and therefore contains no more love within its walls. The house being “bleached out” also evokes the image of the pristine, space-agey white appearance that has become very popular since the turn of the century. This encroachment of modern technology seems to have “bleached out” the love in the singer’s house as well.
The idea of modern trends and technology as being pristinely white and desolating is even a central theme of the CD’s cover art. It shows a black ship, being toppled over in the surrounding bleach white ice. There doesn’t even seem to be any water for the ship to float on. The ship could be interpreted as being Vanderslice and the ice could be seen as the cold modern world overrunning him and preventing him from keeping afloat in steady waters.
Vanderslice continues to express his problems with the modern world in Time Travel Is Lonely‘s title track. In this song, he directly addresses the listeners and says, “wear your headphones, / and Iâ€™ll whisper you the code / of a helper application / that you can download.” In these lyrics, he acknowledges that his listeners are using some form of technology to hear his words. By doing this he has not completely isolated himself from technology. He gives it a purpose (i.e. as a means of communication). But then he says what the “helper application” is: “itâ€™s called ‘Remember.'” Instead of talking about an actual computer program, Vanderslice seems to be using commonly used computer lingo to refer to something that humans have even without a computer: memory. So in saying this, he seems to be calling for people to metaphorically unplug themselves. Not completely, just partially. As he implied earlier, technology does have its place. But in finishing with the line “time travel is lonely” he gives the impression that when you become unplugged, you are less attached to the cold, desolating, bleach white techology and more to your emotional reality. Therefore you won’t end up like the ship in the cover art.
Buy Time Travel Is Lonely by John Vanderslice
John Vanderslice – My Old Flame
John Vanderslice – Time Travel Is Lonely
You can find these songs and more at Barsuk Records.