by Benjamin Smith
I'm a temp. No matter what sort of aesthetic descriptors can accompany my name to suggest the modest fruits of larger ambitions, it would be misleading to suggest that I shouldn't be identified, on some level, by the way in which I spend a good deal of my time - at least in a culture where identity is so often defined by the circumstances under which we exchange our time for money. I also live in New York City, where, more often than not, temping means doing menial work for people who are making vast sums of money. And not the owning-a-home-in-a-nice-neighborhood kind of money, more like the buying-their-secretaries-plane-tickets-to-Brazil-for-their-birthdays kind of money.
Money and the comforts that it affords are, even to the most bearded mod-bohemian or hunger-inspired artist, difficult to ignore and not, on some level, to covet... especially when they're right in front of you. Most often, as I seek out ways to earn the money that will suffice to pay rent for a practice space or releasing records that will not recoup, I find my way (temporarily, of course) into law firms. Here in these palaces of mundane specialization, where the densest structures of bureaucracy and rhetorical complexity earn the most money, there is one simple law of transcendence among those whose benefit-less paper shuffling serves as the backbone for the "mental work" that costs thousands an hour. That law is the beautiful escapism of headphones.
Here, the recent prominence of the iPod, with its geniusly branded white wires and all-but-invisible body, has become a symbol of music's purest form of liberation. While it may be simple escapism, iPods (and, of course, the Discman and Walkman before them) are the tools that allow us an escape into the space where there is more. It is solace for the sacrifice of our time.
Forgive the self-congratulatory and self-justifying nature of this small revelation, and know that if it were a solely personal sentiment I would stay quiet. But it is the sight of the attorneys with their headphones - in offices amidst stacks of paper, emerging half asleep from elevators, leaving at the end of sixty hour weeks - it is in these sights that I know. And even with their unthinkable billing rates and extravagant expense accounts, they too seek a sonic retreat from the lonely and time/money exchange of the corporation, and they know too. There is a world beneath the headphones. It is the beyond.
And on the crowded morning subway, as bags and bodies collide to the abstract rhythm of the jolting train, it is the same scene: a sea of suits with eyes closed and minds protected beneath the umbrella of fantastic soundscapes. The sonic dream in which worlds of beauty, anxiety, desperation and excitement are transferred through a medium that we all understand but none can translate. This is where the fantasy of money fades away. There is always the temptation to escape into the blueprint of domesticity and secure a single title beneath my name. But strangely, it is the iPod, lately, that reminds me how happy I am to be a temp.
Benjamin Smith owns indie lable Pretty Activity Records, home to Vague Angels, Ume, The Subjects, ALOKE and The End Of The World, the latter of which he also plays guitar in.
Pretty Activity Records
The End Of The World