The Philosophy of Yuck: Trying to Break Down “The Wall”

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Newcomers Yuck have put themselves in contention for a number of superlatives: album of the year, best new artist, and perhaps even song of the year, with their outstanding efforts “The Wall” and “Rubber” both serving as worthy contenders.

Perhaps one more should be added to that list: most all-encompassing lyric of the year.

Yuck is often delightfully loud and unrelenting in delivery. No song on their self-titled debut capitalizes on these strengths quite like “The Wall.” Heavily distorted guitars make for a sound so big, so unstoppably momentous that there’s only one way to hear “The Wall”: at the frenzied, chaotic pace Yuck intended.

It’s that physical irresistibility that makes “The Wall” lyrically effective: lead vocalist Daniel Blumberg insisting he’s “Trying to make it through the wall / Trying to make it through the wall / You can see me if you’re tall” makes for an audible, tangible three-dimensional struggle. And a chorus-like “looking over” suggests that whatever the Wall is containing is as frustratingly visible as it is unattainable.

But then, there is the impossibly all-encompassing philosophy of “The Wall”:

“And I know that I’m in space

And I know that it’s not real

It’s just the way I feel, it’s just the way that I feel”

In these lines lie acknowledgements to two of the most timeless, yet still relevant human ponderings. Blumberg singing he knows that he’s in space–aside from adding a superficially nice cosmic aesthetic–is an admittance of his own insignificance, at the very least on a universal level (though, subscribing to the “at least” scenario is nearly worthless). If he really is trying to bust through that physical or metaphorical wall, his determination in the context of his own actions’ futility is–if you’ve ever brought up, say, a “How many stars are there in the universe?” search tab–utterly and devastatingly relatable.

Then there’s the assurance that Yuck knows “that it’s not real.” Thoughts of The Matrix’s “red pill, blue pill” dilemma are invoked instantly in many. What comes to mind for me is one of the classic “mirror neuron”-inspired thought experiments: a mad scientist takes a man’s brain out of his body (somehow preserving its function during its removal and, just in case, also preserving the de-brained body) and put it in a futuristic vat. In this vat, the free-floating brain is subjected to calculated electrochemical influence, so as to simulate sensations of being, for instance, as smart as Einstein, as athletic as Jordan, and suave as Bond, James Bond. The man is as happy as his brain could ever allow.

The experimenter then informs the man that his life as a brain in the vat isn’t “real”, and gives him the choice to either remain in the vat or return to his “old self.” Many people, when placed in this position, would likely request to return to their past form. But why? That is, if the entirety of one’s emotions, thoughts, and insights are but the byproduct of endogenous electrochemical activity (which is, of course, also influenced by one’s environment), what difference exists between these two “realities?”

(What does this have to do with mirror neurons? If they exist in humans, mirror neurons—cells that fire both when one performs an action and when one witness an action (think monkey see, monkey do)—serve as the most ready illustration of reality’s cerebral subjectivity.)

Of course, Yuck’s position, and indeed perhaps the most logical (dare I say “correct?”), falls in line with this reasoning: if two “realities” can exist simultaneously and yet be made up of entirely different perceptions, interpretations, and remembrances of the same physical phenomena, and therefore “truths”, then for us, nothing is “real.” Our realities—Yuck knowingly not excluded—are so contextually influenced by our unique brains and are so readily manipulated that describing something as “real” isn’t perceptually useful.

And finally, the wisest and most fate-embracing line: “It’s just the way that I feel, It’s just the way that I feel.” Yuck can respect its position as a microbubble in the ocean of the universe, and can likewise note their own perceptual fallacies and their consequences. But amidst this cosmic anxiety and brain-bound captivity is something satisfactorily tangible and significant: sensation, feeling, the rush of animal emotions and human introspection.

It should then serve as no coincidence that Yuck is able to translate that “last stand” of meaningful existence powerfully through our speakers. For all of the literature that might convince one of their own life’s pointlessness, there remain songs like “The Wall”: a song that, even while explicitly acknowledging (and perhaps even embracing) these agreeably troubling notions, manages to pull us back down to earth and help us contextually appreciate the beautiful complexity behind our strongest actions and feelings. That is, “The Wall” brings our relativity, and thus our worth, to scale. After all, it’s at the very least, as Sparklehorse put it, a “sad and beautiful world.”

As of right now, only theories exist on the evolutionary significance of mankind’s fondness for music. It appears, at least in “man vs. world” utility, useless. But, if introspection has been evolution’s greatest plague to humanity—as its logical, potentially self-destructive products would suggest—then perhaps music, with its qualia-invoking propensities, is humanity’s most improbable savior.

And no, you won’t find a “Music is my Religion, Bro” bumper sticker on my car. But a Yuck sticker? Think what you may, but I’ll trade some vehicular depreciation for a bit of existentialist relief any day.