It’s hard for me at this point to even begin writing about Titus Andronicus, which is why I’m starting this with a line about how it’s hard for me to even begin writing about Titus Andronicus. There’s so much going on in their music that I care so much about that I’ve written multiple never-to-be-published theses on their work. (C’mon, 33 1/3! That proposal was incredible! I will never write something that good again!) It’s impassioned stuff, the work of TA, and it inspires impassioned response – nothing less. So when given the opportunity to pick songs for roughly a quarter of a thirty-day period, I figured I had to get a Titus song in there somewhere.
It wasn’t hard. Titus Andronicus’s music, for all its triumph, feels wintry pretty much all the time. Something about the martiality of it – maybe the sense of plowing forward against adverse circumstances. Their first album was named for a tradition to be celebrated during “Seinfeld”‘s invented universal winter holiday Festivus. That tradition is called “The Airing of Grievances.” The whole Titus discography is filled with grievances being aired – they’re essentially this band’s bread and butter, along with unnecessarily brilliant (or brilliantly unnecessary?) guitar solos. But it’s on “No Future Part Three: Escape From No Future” that Patrick Stickles airs his one real grievance against Christmas – “Everything makes me nervous / And nothing feels good, for no reason / Waking up is rarely worth it / The same dark dread every morning . . . And all I want for Christmas / Is no feelings / No feelings, now / OR EVER AGAIN!”
Christmas, as packaged and sold, offers us endless opportunity to demonstrate our feelings. It might be the best time of year for Catholics, Jews, and Puritans alike when it comes to letting off some steam. But most brands (commercial, religious, and otherwise) encourage us to emote only love, acceptance, happiness, and warmth, even though this is often not how we feel – that would be sick with dread, tired of waking up, nervous to the end. Stickles’s plea for “no feelings” is an indictment of the classic feel-goodery of the good ol’ Spirit of Chirstmas, one in which he rejects both the options presented to him and those denied him for something completely other – the void.
If you follow along with the rest of Patrick’s story over the course of “The Monitor” (“No Future Pt. III” being that album’s opening chapter) – and you absolutely should – you’ll find that the void doesn’t work out too well for our hero. Nor should it. But there are moments when all we can think about is the medication we pour into ourselves, the limitations placed on us by forces internal and external, the versions of ourselves that get stuck somewhere in our bowels never to emerge, and the various “faceplates” stretched across our mouths – “nobody gets in and nobody gets out.” In these moments, it can all become too much to bear. We feel like we’ll forever be losers, not so much in the Beck sense as in the Kansas City Royals sense.
But as Titus Andronicus remind us at the end of this song, “That’s okay.” And it really, really is.