If I were writing for a publication that people read, a sufficiently sensationalist yet formulaic title for this personal reflection would be “The Drama of Billie Eilish.”
I came across Eilish’s music while perusing a woman’s Tinder profile last year. You never know where encounter takes place. (A sign of self-importance is closing oneself off, in advance, to certain realms. However, supposing we can’t be everywhere at once, what does openness mean?)
Anyway, I started singing “Ocean Eyes,” accompanying myself on guitar. Eilish recorded the song when she was 14. It went viral, launching her career. I was fascinated and I’ve been following ‘”Eilish.”
Looking back, I’d say I was captivated by the simplicity of suffering, not to mention the lifestyles of Gen Z.
There is release in simplicity. The chorus interests me.
“No fair, you really know how to make me cry, when you give me those ocean eyes. I’m scared. I’ve never fallen from quite this high, looking into your ocean eyes.”
The child’s voice, still gentle on the precipice. “No fair!” – your abiding presence reveals me. “I’m scared” – there is no point of reference in the limitlessness of your gaze, which brings me to myself.
All this before the bodily and emotional armoring that is, for most people, adulthood. The confused and abused notions “purity and innocence” are not lurking behind my musings. I mean openness, which is always tender, but which even becomes fierce when maintained by true grown ups. (Where are they?)
Here, for me, “Eilish’s” tears are, so to speak, clean. Despite “burning cities and napalm skies” her eyes are open. There’s nothing dramatic about this. Suffering is simple.
The bratty ego that barely surfaces – “no fair” – is dissolved in the ocean. Clean, cleansing tears.
A few years later, the simplicity of suffering has become egomaniacal grief. “When the party’s over,” Eilish’s new single, struck me with its tears in a new context.
When we objectify each other as the source of our longing for safety, even love becomes war. And parting becomes violently dramatic – “breaking up.” Something goes wrong with basic dignity, something is muddied.
The “diamond mind” and “ocean eyes” serenely annihilate something that never existed. The lonely ego is quietly held and lovingly shattered, exposing to the peacefulness of one billion suns. (The statement is melodramatic, not simple.)
Recently I’ve been drawn back into Eilish’s orbit. It has become one place for me to notice what’s going on. Her representations in social media captivate me. The baggy clothes, reminiscent of a teenage eating disorder. It’s like she’s wearing a potato sack. You can’t get me.
The bitchy ego tug-of-war played out in many of her songs. In most of her social media photos there’s an adolescent, depressed, tongue-sticking-out defiance: I can’t believe you’re making me go through this shit. School sucks. Everything sucks.
But there’s strength, vitality in these songs, the syrupy drama of the ego’s differentiation!
Perhaps in a disembodied and emotionally dis-integrated culture, the stream of vitality is to be found where most people are still connected to the earth: adolescence. Culture is in the body. Where most adults are cut off from the life force, one must regress to adolescence to find energy. It’s dark. What’s going on?
I wonder whose gaze is steadfast, gentle enough to elicit the rivers of sadness just below the dysfunctional, narcissistic facades.
Clean tears into muddy waters.
From “you should see me in a crown”:
Come over baby
I think you’re pretty
I’m not your baby
If you think I’m pretty
You should see me in a crown