Thirty five minutes into the forty minute film accompanying X:THC’s X: The Human Condition, the above question is posed, in text, across the screen.
I’ve been trying to answer this very question for a long, long time now. I’ve thought about it so much over the years that I can pinpoint the exact moment when the child within me, the one that fearlessly tossed about the most outrageous, funny, insane ideas for stories, visual arts, and crazy banter between friends, shut his trap and locked himself up in a cave. I’ve tried luring him out with booze, women, exotic trips to far away locations, and I’ve even tried dragging him out against his will to force him to interact with the kinds of people and environments that used to serve him well. Sometimes it worked for a fleeting moment. Sometimes it worked longer than that. But all it took to send him back into his cave was an act of disapproval against him, something which the inner child’s old man still hasn’t been able to convince him is nothing to be afraid of. In fact, it can be a source of even greater fun and deeper connection. But try getting the inner child to believe it.
After all, it’s kind of hard to have fun with matches when your scars from the last failed bout of lighting off fireworks are still uncomfortably healing, but it’s still no excuse to sit around moping.
Now, if you’re looking for a soundtrack to said moping, you couldn’t do much better than The Human Condition, though to be fair, X:THC’s leader, Michael Nova, isn’t exactly looking to comfort you with justifications for your moping. No, he’s not the codependent exploiter of misery type. As someone who spent the better part of ten years working on completing this project while battling multiple health issues from which he was initially not expected to fully recover, the last thing he wants to do is give anyone an excuse to stay in their filthy rotten depressing ruts.
No, this guy is looking to inspire. And he’s looking to do it in a world where our attention is more divided and fragmented than it has ever been, thanks to the endless proliferation of free music, video, reading material, interactive experiences, iThis and iThat at our fingertips.
As an all-for-the-price-of-one multimedia experience, The Human Condition is way, way ambitious. Yet, ironically, for all its bells and whistles, the throwing-spaghetti-at-the-wall approach doesn’t necessarily take less time to connect than if it were just an album, just a film, or just a web site. Of course, this will probably be different for you, but for me, it took a while to really grasp the full scope of what Nova was trying to do here. I really had to sit down and pay attention.
I started with the CD, because that’s where I always want to start. The music is what matters most to me, and what I was hearing was a cold, electronic stew of lonely beats and orchestrated trip hop that sounds like a record from an alternate universe where Portishead ditched Beth Gibbons in favor of an ‘80s New Romantic singer, like, say, Spandau Ballet’s Tony Hadley.
Even before the music starts, however, we’re given an intro that sets us up for a story, where “two individuals shared the same experience.” Unfortunately, if you’re just listening to the CD, the dual story concept is nearly impossible to discern. What’s left then is a powerful collection of individual songs dealing with themes of loneliness, isolation, and a desire to break through to a more meaningful, connected life. The see saw of emotions ranges from the dreary, desolate “Mr. Happy” to the inspired anthem “You’re Worth Fighting For,” which gets my vote for the album’s best song.
Switch over to the DVD, and the story starts to make a lot more sense. The “brown eyes” and “blue eyes” mentioned in the intro take on actual female and male characters, respectively, and we follow them through parallel experiences of isolation. Blue eyes appears to be tortured over the loss of a loved one for whom he keeps a photograph in his room, while brown eyes is living in her own figurative prison – represented on film by a literal prison, naturally – following an episode where she is attacked by an evil man in black. As we follow these two characters through scenes of despair and regression (the latter cleverly represented by the main characters walking forward as everyone around them is doing the opposite – flip that around and there’s your reality), they eventually give in to their inner children, meet at an X:THC concert, and then – “something magical happens,” as is promised in the intro.
Even without the story setup being clear in the CD part of the package, the songs themselves have a consistency in sound and production that make for something deeply touching. Meanwhile, the DVD isn’t merely a “bonus” – it’s a necessary component when it comes to fully grasping the artist’s intent.
A big part of Nova’s intent was to bring people together by pulling them out of their lonely, isolated lives to talk, to connect. He has left the story of The Human Condition open in order to generate discussion, and the community forum on the band’s web site is dedicated to just that. What’s more, he never gives us the answer to the question “If it is the child within us that creates connection, friendship, and love, then what must we do to create that again?” The answer is going to be different for everyone, and we won’t find it without talking to each other about it. That’s as much of an answer as I can give, anyway.
Even if what’s on the surface of The Human Condition leaves itself wide open to sneers and jeers – everything from the goth-like titles “Monster” and “The Creature From The Blackened Room” to the name of the band itself – what lies beneath overshadows any and all opportunities for snark by being deeply and genuinely moving. If it at least moves you to pick up the phone and talk to somebody, which it did for me, then this little multimedia package has accomplished some measure of success.