I keep hearing the world’s ending, that these are biblical times. That a plague has driven us indoors and locusts have eaten all the toilet paper. That the economy is down, and we’re going bankrupt, just like everyone else. They’re saying I could haggle myself a barrel of oil for pocket change. But if oil’s so important, how comes it’s cheaper than beer? And what am I supposed to do with a barrel of oil anyway?
In 2018, I wrote about L.A. Salami’s sprawling opus, The City of Bootmakers, and marvelled at the scope of its penchant for unsavoury questions. The album is characterized by its fearless curiosity; across his musings, Salami dared to wonder out loud a series of significant questions that, at the time, seemed extremely urgent — apocalyptic, even. Who’s got the power? Who’s cursing us? Can you not tell that the right spell is total? What’s worth life if you don’t give life? It ends with Salami ultimately asking the listener What is this? It’s been two years, and no answer has made itself apparent.
If this is the apocalypse, I’m underwhelmed. I always figured I’d at least be able to see the instrument of our doom. The screaming arc of a V2 missile or a mysterious pulsing light in the sky, a little green man, an earth shattering storm or a giant hand emerging from the clouds. I don’t see anything. There’s no fire, no large purple man with big mitts and a weird chin. I don’t see a crack in the sky. In fact, today the sky is as blue and royal as a set of fresh scrubs. The streets are abnormally hushed, okay, but the eeriness is intermittently squashed by the influx of runners and their barking dogs. Animals instinctively run from danger; I’ve seen more wildlife in four weeks than I had in years.
Or maybe it is the end of the world. Has the world been ending for hundreds of millions of years now, and we’ve only just recognized our own free fall because we swallowed a bug on the way down? Does that mean we just jumped? Maybe it’s a slow descent, and the planet seems smaller than ever because from a new perspective we realize we’re still so far from meeting the ground. The Doomsday clock says we still have a hundred seconds. If that’s the case, then let us take in the weather on the way down. This week was sunnier than last.
Maybe the worlds just on pause.
In February Salami released the Self Portrait In Sound EP. In contrast to the sweeping insecurities of The City of Bootmakers, Salami uses Self Portrait in Sound to negotiate a personal interrogation “of someone that once was, and who can still be found somewhere. Things are forever changing but this was someone at some point, and could still yet be what I become.” He remains lost in reverie, and in turning that fervent curiosity inward, he’s found multitudes. Like Bootmakers, the answers aren’t nearly as important as the questions. Do we really want to know if beauty has to die? It it fear that will take your words away?
Self Portrait In Sound’s second single was “My Old Friend,” an intimate meditation on distance between dear friends. Wondering how they’re doing; what to say when you see them; if things could possibly go back to normal. Salami narrowed his line of questioning, but in no way do his inquiries seem any less consequential. In our current state, they seem paramount. That doesn’t render The City of Bootmakers’ cliffhangers any less important. Priorities have simply shifted.
I won’t lose sleep for the stock market. I’m worried about my friends in healthcare, and my grandparents. I’m worried about my job, and whether Jeff Bezos will write it off in a couple years. I’m scared for the businesses in my neighbourhood. Will they survive? Or will they become part of a Google Campus by the time I’m thirty? How contagious is panic? If a trillion dollars can’t fix everything, can it fix anything? What about a trillion more? Will the Raptors resign Fred VanVleet?
When can we hold hands again? Will we forget how to sing? What about scarves? Things can’t just go back to normal, can they? If these are questions we can answer, we can answer them after. If we can’t, then in due time they’ll likely answer themselves. An answer’s useless without a problem and, currently, most problems are arbitrary. All lines have been blurred. My kitchen is my office and also my roommates office. Work is an excuse to leave the house; running is liberation; productivity is rewatching the 2001 NBA Finals. Business hours are strictly so you know when to eat, and monthly bills are just reminders to wash your bedsheets. It might be Tuesday. Paychecks were how I remembered to floss.. That’s a problem. Salami says “Forget it.”
On “We’ll Solve It After,” the lead single he released early last year, Salami wonders What it’s like to let the world be? Well, tonight the world smells like fresh rain. Every night, I hear cheers in the street, the crack of beers cans from the balconies around me. I hear birds downtown. I can see stars where there was previously a sickly orange burn. The moon’s still caught up in the sun. Yesterday I saw a real life otter floating down the river. Last week, a friend sent a video of a Harlem street blaring music at deafening volume, and dozens of heads poking past window-mounted air conditioners to sing along with Max B. So is this actually the end of times? I’ll believe it if the Raptors don’t resign Fred VanVleet.
Near the end of Self Portrait in Sound, Salami answer’s his final question from The City Of Bootmakers. What Is This? It Is What It Is. If that’s true, This isn’t so bad. It’s been at least a hundred seconds since I checked the Doomsday clock, and nothing’s exploded. In a moment, the sun will break the skyline again. It’ll hang over the city this afternoon, and tomorrow. It’ll cast light on L.A. Salami’s questions, which aren’t going anywhere. Sooner or later, they’ll require answers.
But today’s about to start, so they’ll have to wait. After is a ways away yet. Tonight was beautiful, and yesterday hardly seemed like the end of the world.
– Thomas Johnson