I just rewatched the incredible documentary “May It Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers” with my roommates and my love continues to grow for those incredibly rooted artists. Two dudes from the country of North Carolina, grounded in family and values, creating music by trying to communicate their lives to an audience willing to listen. Many of the qualities of Scott and Seth Avett are admirable and deserve attention, both as individuals and the dynamics of them as brothers in the same band, but what strikes me the most about them is their ability to voluntarily put themselves out there to the world. To strangers and family alike.
There is a scene in the beginning where Scott is driving and talking to the camera about their development as musicians. He references their upbringing and how their family values always emphasized them sharing how they felt and why that mattered. He talks about how he was raised with an understanding that their feelings and experiences meant something and they needed to be shared. And people cared about that. And wanted to hear that. This carried over into their music. Later in the documentary Seth jokingly says how they make a living by reading their diary on stage. In all seriousness, this is what they do. They capture their lives in their melodies, rhythms, and lyrics. From struggles with personal anxieties and fears of death to growing up around tractors and horses. From the experience of divorce to the joy of growing up around siblings. These men share their lives with us. Humor and seriousness. Upbeat and mellow. Loss and triumph. Their music reflects who they are, where they come from, and why they do what they do. They risk a lot by doing this. But it is through this risk that they are truly born. Real artists and real people.
This aspect of the Avett brothers is so admirable because we live in culture where we constantly want to be in control and not risk ourselves in the unpredictability of life. We don’t want to put ourselves out there and be vulnerable because we might get hurt or put into a situation where we are uncertain how to deal with something. We don’t want to run into the obnoxious friend at the grocery store. We don’t want to pull up to the red light where the homeless person is sitting. We don’t want to start a conversation with the person we like because we might mess it up.
We would rather edit our lives. We would rather be in control and play it safe. We want convenience and security. We don’t want people to see us for how we are, but how we make ourselves seem. We would rather dodge uncomfortable situations, people, or truths. The risk is too much.
One of the ways I think we slip into this lifestyle is by becoming reliant upon our devices. We use them to edit our lives and live in a secure network by which we control. A virtual reality that is dependent upon us. Not the real world that we are dependent upon.
One of the major themes in their music is the lack of control we have in life. Reality just kind of hits us and we stand there wondering what to do about it.
The Avett brothers are not scared to go to these places. They willingly revisit portraits of conflict and mistakes. Because this is life. They take the risk and communicate their journey. No control, they sing and they share. If you put yourself out there, then you will inevitably be met by conflict in some way.
“But who said that a life without conflict, without being reminded of past mistakes, past pain, or one where you can avoid rubbing shoulders with troublesome people, is good? Was it the same person who said that life shouldn’t have boring bits? In this case, if technology gives us the feeling that we can communicate with total control, life’s contingencies become a problem. Just because technology can help us solve a “problem” doesn’t mean it was a problem in the first place.”
-Sherry Turkle, from her book Reclaiming Conversation