When I was a kid, I used to leave my small purple crystal lamp on all night.
The lamp’s bright glow illuminated my small nocturnal world, where I delved into late night reading, TV viewing and music listening. Its 100-watt incandescent bulb also served as the spotlight for my creativity – poetry, short stories and vinyl albums – during carefree weekend and summer nights.
Unfortunately, the lamp dimmed from my memory after I went to college, but its warm sheen cast brief, intermittent flashes of creativity in my subconscious for nearly two decades.
One of those intermittent flashes shined brightly enough to catch my attention in December 2014. At the time, I was driving home from work while listening to Modest Mouse’s “Lampshades on Fire” single on SiriusXMU.
The first single from Modest Mouse’s “Strangers to Ourselves” album instantly brought back fuzzy, but comforting memories of creativity and growth.
It turns out my memories of the purple crystal lamp were burned permanently in my mind. I just had to look in the right place to find them and Modest Mouse frontman Isaac Brock guided me there through his “Lampshades on Fire” lyrics:
“The room lights up but we’re still dancing around./We’re all having some fun now./ Pack up again head to the next place, where we’ll make the same mistakes.”
In my mind’s eye, the purple crystal lamp shined on the creative and carefree days of my childhood – working on the high school paper with friends, writing poetry about past relationships and winning a journalism scholarship for college.
It also highlighted the tough experiences – seeing “Lori is a nerd” scrawled on the blackboard during a game of sixth-grade Hangman, failing my driving test and dropping precalculus in high school.
Sure, I had learned valuable lessons from those experiences, but I’ve never stopped growing (physically, yes), but spiritually, no. I just view those lessons through a 40-year-old lens now.
I also believe that’s how Brock felt when he wrote “Lampshades on Fire.” There comes a time when we need to reflect back on our younger days and remember what fueled our creativity:
“The air’s on fire so we’re moving on./Better find another one cuz this one’s done … Spend some time floating out in space, find another planet to make the same mistakes.”
Whether he’s floating on or missing the boat, Brock writes and sings his lyrics with a humorous, yet emotional intensity. It’s like listening to an old friend who recounts his life experiences through self-deprecation.
Brock discussed his creative songwriting approach in a March 16, 2015 Wall Street Journal blog post after taking an eight-year absence between Modest Mouse’s 2007 album, “We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank,” and the band’s 2015 release, “Strangers to Ourselves.”
“The method is this: Small ideas? Don’t hone in on them too much. If they seem too specific, too dead on, if your point is too on the nose, you’re going to lose the opportunity to have a lot of people get your point.
“Change it. Find a way to make what you’re saying matters to people without saying too much at all. Allow everyone enough imagination and ownership of coming to something themselves.
“They could come to something better, which would be great. They could come to something worse, which is dangerous.
“But, don’t be direct, otherwise you’ll be too preachy. I don’t have a rule, but it’s an approach I try,” he said.
Truly talented musicians like Brock encourage fans to make their own interpretations about a song. For me, “Lampshades on Fire” symbolizes creativity and growth, but to Brock it may mean something entirely different.
That’s why I love music. There’s no right or wrong answer. A song’s personal meaning can evolve as we age and add more fruitful experiences to our personal roster.
I added another memorable experience to my roster when I heard Modest Mouse play “Lampshades on Fire” live during a 15-song set at DTE Energy Music Theater on July 3.
Early in the set, Brock squinted as he simultaneously asked the band and audience, “Did anyone think to bring their sunglasses up on stage?”
No one answered.
“What a bunch of f—-in’ rock ‘n rollers we are!” Brock said jokingly as he launched into the next song on a bright Sunday summer evening.
Well, Brock, I didn’t bring my sunglasses either. It turns out I didn’t need any. My eyes had grown accustomed to the brilliant sheen of “Lampshades on Fire” and the purple crystal lamp in my mind’s eye.
I laughed to myself later that evening once I saw Brock slip on a pair of blue shades.