Inner Peace


In their agitpop epic Understanding Marx, Red Shadow (The Economics Rock ‘n’ Roll Band) observes that “you can’t snowmobile your way down a forest trail to inner peace.”

The folks at Arctic Enterprises beg to differ. They’re so brimming over with inner peace that they declined to sue Al Stewart for stealing the title of their 1970 advertising jingle “Year of the Cat,” and using it, with malice aforethought, in a song that has no connection to snowmobiles, or indeed, to winter sports of any kind.

Year of the Cat strikes a nice balance between aggression (“this is the year to take winter and live it”) and a placidity that verges on defeatism (“it’s one dream that can come true”). Something about the string arrangements makes the song feel weirdly retrospective, as though the pleasures of the snowmobile were being considered from the comfort of a fireside, or a deathbed.

Shasta’s Take Your Time is an equally melancholy affair. Time flies, the grave yawns, life and love pass swiftly…but you can throw a spanner into the celestial clockwork by drinking Shasta more slowly.

Don’t just gulp it down; that’ll bring your death halfway to meet you. Savor it! Swish it around in your mouth, and let it trickle luxuriously down your gullet. Use an eyedropper, if you like. Or better yet, a disposable transfer pipet. Put it in a baby bottle and suck at it as feebly as a newborn kitten, while pretending you’ve got your whole life ahead of you.

The music complements this advice perfectly: right at the outset, a lively folk guitar is cut short by a suspended drone from the strings, in order to signify the state of pure being that commences when the flavor of Shasta overthrows what Meister Eckhart called “the very taint and smell of time,” and leaves us “simultaneously dead, resigned and lifted up.”

What’s striking about both songs is their tone of complaint. Arctic Enterprises acknowledges our past disappointments and failures, but suggests that if we set our sights a little lower, we might finally be able to start living; the whole thing has the feel of a New Year’s resolution that will be broken by 9 pm on January 1.

Shasta asks, “Why do the good things go by so fast? Why can’t the fun just go on and last?” Unlike Coca-Cola and Pepsi, which celebrate the boundlessness of the Life Force as relentlessly as a character out of D.H. Lawrence, Shasta wants to ration and conserve life…to put a tourniquet on the wound of time, as it were. Lord only knows what sort of inner peace you could attain, however briefly, by taking hummingbird sips of Shasta while hurtling through the wilderness in a snowmobile.

If you’re looking for a more reliable remedy for alienation and dread, perhaps you should consider working on the Great Big Rollin’ Railroad. This promotional song from Union Pacific is as relaxed and placid as the others, and offers its own antidote to time-sickness: your life may be a vapor that appeareth for a little while, and then passeth away, but Union Pacific will exist so long as there are recreational vehicles and pallets of soda to transport “‘cross the flats of Salt Lake City, on to Vegas and LA.”

Listen slowly, and make each second count, for these are moments of your life that you will never get back.

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