The moment I hear the spare notes of acoustic guitar that mark the beginning of Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger” I get all gushy. The gushiness comes from the joy that is Iggy’s voice and music, of course (although I am pledged to Kill All Rock Stars), but it also comes from the dream world that Iggy sings of. He’s not in control – he’s the passenger. He’s not part of the scene – he rides and rides. He doesn’t act – he just looks.
And yet the cityscape the song paints is one that I recognize, one that feels so incredibly, impossibly open and full of possible worlds. Some of them are dreams, of course, and some of them are the passengers’s vision alone, but they incorporate all of us, bringing us into this Calvinoesque world that sports multitudes or geographies and archaeologies, platforms that are clean and bright (but not pure) and that scream of green vistas and cityscapes loaded with wondrous images that belong to you and me.
The you and me is key, of course. The song creates its own community, one that is concerned with the immediate and the past and the future, one that shimmers and shakes and seems to be nearly falling apart while constantly, miraculously staying together. It’s not a place that exists perhaps, but it’s a place called home (thanks PJ Harvey!), one that is tinged with the sadness of contemporary poetry (and its love of language) and has the energy of good hip-hop or punk or ska or post-punk. It can be junked up, sort of, with stacks of cultural detritus that may or may not be metaphorical.
Being the Passenger in this landscape places me in a ship, a boat, a convertible, a bike, a motorcycle – open vessels that acknowledge our lizard brains and hard wiring and that still allows to dream of being fully human, completely realized, self-actualized in ways that Maslow couldn’t conceive (or maybe he could). The stars float by, the sun warms us through the trees, and we arrive at a club in the wasteland. We dance to smart, ironic, beat-laden music, with lots of sweaty, sexy-with-no-makeup (except on the guys) types who just dance. And we’re there with ones we love, who enjoy this beat from Armageddon as much or more than we do, and who teach us lots (and learn more).
No containers, no barriers, no borders. We dream big dreams, occasionally nightmares, and we stride through landscapes humbly, with no desire to do damage except to ourselves (and to acknowledge our own). We look for minimal impacts, and get muddy and dirty and bask in the green. We feel speed as we start to lose ourselves in the joy of adrenalin falls and plunges, and we feel exhaustion as our muscles pull us to new heights and strange locales. We climb to plateaus and plunge through channels and are constantly reminded of both our loneliness and our connections.
We wonder about our souls, but don’t worry about their states. We sleep in the open air by moving water, lured by the smell of fire and cooked food and we revel in our basic beings without being utterly self-absorbed. We communicate minimally, and yet know what we need and how we need to move and what we need to experience. We know terror, and we know fear, and both are essential parts of our beings, of the shared moments that we revel in, and the fears are delicious and chilling and yet another part of what it is to be human.
We wander down roads that are lone markers in some sort of wilderness, surrounded by ruins and dregs and reminders of just how fall we’ve fallen. We chase and are chased, we escape and are caught, and from each episode emerge wiser and more in tune. We dive into terrifying nights and come out the other side intact but more sorrowful and in tune, and we walk through primal scenes and weatherscapes and know what it is to inhabit another’s skin and feel their pains and joys, even if those feelings are completely alien to our own.
We think we feel the devil, even if he exists in what we bring to the world ourselves, and stop by his campsite on a cold winter’s night, basking in both the heat provided by his fire and the fear of his presence, the uncanniness that Freud loved, hair on edge and aware that just beyond this fire lies a world that we probably cannot imagine, one in which family relationships disintegrate into splinters that reflect who we are, and that open us up again.
And yet we return to the city, this dream city, this dream world, one that is both completely open and deserted and empty and uncared for and yet full of life below the surface, full of mythical creatures and machines and structures, places where we live in the open air that is loaded with the fragrances of what it means to be human. The moon is full, and it’s always full, and the sun is always muted but warm and broken up by trees both short and tall. Hidden spaces pop up all over, ridges that lead nowhere, natural features tamed but not, artificial constructions that nonetheless take up fantastical spaces in our minds and beckon us in. The music fades to that of the wind, and the trash swirls, and we know that this moment, this time, this place, is all that we need, forever.