According to a commonly cited biological factoid, in the space of seven years, all of the cells in your body die and are replaced by other cells.
By this logic, we transform into completely different people every seven years, in a ship-of-Theseus-esque question of transitive identity.
Biologically speaking, it’s not actually true.
But sometimes, it feels like it might be. Especially as artists. Tomorrow, SPACESHIPS plays a whopping two-hour set that pulls from every part of our catalog. We’ll be playing songs we have not yet debuted, and we’ll be playing some songs that we haven’t played since Joel joined four years ago.
And as we practiced over those songs—a few of them written around ten years ago—it almost felt as if I was playing covers.
SPACESHIPS is not the same project as it was when those songs were written— it doesn’t even have the same name. These songs were written on an acoustic guitar and layered in Garage Band through years of multitracking. Now, we don’t even multitrack when we record in the studio.
Even the band that I put together to play that first SPACESHIPS record has changed significantly. Bret hasn’t played these songs. Ben hasn’t played them on guitar. I’m not sure Joel’s even heard them (lineup of Theseus?). My voice has changed drastically. I wrote these songs nearly whispering as to not bother my roommates. Now, I spend most of my microphone time yelling over instruments, and my diaphragm has grown with the practice. And I’m certainly no longer in the life situations I found myself in when I put those words to paper.
But as cumbersome and ill-fitting as these songs feel played by a different set of musicians, at different volumes, in a different life, and with a different voice, there’s something transcendent about them.
As artists, we engage in an eternal work. When we put words to page or paint to canvas or sound to tape, we wrap that moment into a time-proof ball and throw it to the cosmos.
Last week at Audiofeed, Patrick and I joined the Gaffer Project to perform a set of songs by talkcore legends mewithoutYou. And as I shouted these songs—most of them around fifteen years old—I was joined by the voices of the throng, shouting along with every word. Regardless of how Aaron Weiss’s life may have changed in the last decade and a half, his words remain etched to the deepest parts of our souls, and they’ll likely stay there.
Even as I write this blog, Power, Corruption, and Lies by New Order spins on my turntable, and 36 years after its release, it harnesses all the moody cool that it did in 1983.
Every person alive exists in this limbo between the fleeting impermanence of our whims and the eternal echoes that ripple out into the universe, bouncing against the edge of the cosmos and rippling back against eachother. But artists are especially torn between the two extremes.
We create out of the overflow of our contemporary experience, speaking to our specific time-bound context. And yet, long after that context has been destroyed, long after our lives have shifted into something wholly different, long after every cell in our body has died and been replaced by inexact replicas, the things we create endure, crying out through the turning of calendar pages and revolutions of the earth like a beacon outside of time, announcing to the world for all eternity, “I was here, I felt, I lived.”
. . . . .
In college, I wrote a song for a friend after she came to me, crushed by one thing or another (I have long since forgotten the exact details). I think I spent a couple hours writing it. But for years, it became a mainstay of my hushed, coffeeshop live shows. In fact, I played it so often that a few years later when I finally recorded my first record, I nearly left it off of the album (the thought of disappointing my friends bade me think better of it).
It’s been years since I’ve even thought about adding that song to a live set. But every once in a while, one of my college friends will bring it up to me.
To be an artist is to exist outside of time, to dirty our hands in clay that will far outlast those hands. I think of people like Prince or Sister Rosetta Tharpe or Miles Davis. Artists who have passed into the by-and-by, but their voices carry far louder than their mortal coils. I think of Van Gogh or Da Vinci or John Milton or Homer, who out of their small, fleeting lives created eternal works that have endured for hundreds and even thousands of years.
And I wonder if someday, centuries from now, if the songs we sing, the images we paint, and the words we write based on our own fleeting, temporal moments might be counted among them.