By Gabrielle Marceau
LIVE FROM DEATH VALLEY !!
A link to a new song by a famous rock band began circulating around twitter, originating from a mysterious user called Masha S who seemed to be a Russian spam bot tweeting nonsensical anagrams and cryptic phrases (У меня есть информация = I have some information). Later that day, Masha S posted a link to the webpage live.everythingnow.com. The site contained a live stream video, a single static shot of billboard mountains and below it neon lights scrolled by spelling the words 'Everything Now' in different languages (you could wait by your screen to see yours pop up, if you were so inclined). In the background: actual mountains.
A French philosopher travels through America in search of its essence and finds it in the desert. Baudrillard published his book America in 1988, the same year an Irish rock band released a record inspired by Joshua Tree National Park. In 2017, a band of expats and French Canadians set out to the same landscape to imagine their latest concept album. For decades, foreign intellectuals saw in the desert the clue to an enigmatic country.
THE DESERT ??
The philosopher wrote: “It is because you are delivered from all depth there, a brilliant, mobile, superficial neutrality, a challenge to meaning and profundity, a challenge to nature and culture, an outer hyperspace, with no origin, no reference points.” Everything Now distills an overstuffed nation into a series of symbols scattered on a stretch of desert. In the video for the song, you can’t tell if the desert is the detritus of an overdeveloped world, or the birthplace of modern industrial America. It may be both: look long enough into ashes and something new is bound to appear. The desert seems like an unlikely choice for a song about everything; consumption, chaos, speed, glut, and over stimulation - but it serves here as a kind of primal scene for America, in reverse. The detritus, the laboratory, and the canvas. Everywhere you go there are signs that bear the same omen: E.N. It's a logo, a joke, and the psychic condition of billions.
THE DESERT !!
Death Valley is one of the hottest places in the world (this summer, it’s temperatures have climbed to 50 degrees Celsius). It is a dangerous landscape that demands vigilance. For a generation raised on distraction, the desert forces you into an intensified present. The philosopher says: “I sought the finished form of the future catastrophe of the social in geology, in that upturning of depth that can be seen in the striated spaces, the reliefs of salt and stone, the canyons where the fossil river flows down, the immemorial abyss of slowness that shows itself in erosion and geology”.
DYSTOPIA NOW !!
The singer in the band is a little sun-burnt and a little sad: he stopped believing in utopia years ago. But he learned to embrace the suburban sprawl when he remembered that kids could ride bikes, vandalized and climb fences - people make do by redefining and animating even the most cold and isolating landscapes. The desert terrain is hopeless and unfriendly, unwatched children miss their daddies, everything is broken and dusty: but have you ever seen a field of floating cacti, or a thousand rockets in one sky, have you seen our sunsets?!
“Every film you’ve ever seen/ fills up the space in your dreams.” when the message circles through our unconscious, it comes out again, and heads back across the border. The directors of the video, the duo called Sacred Egg, are famous for their surreal commercials for MailChimp, a service which allows you to send thousands of emails in a minute. A twitter user called @everythingnowco emerged with the bio: “Content Division, a subsidiary of Everything Now. The shortest distance between you and everything is Everything Now."
DANCING QUEEN !!
Across the world and a few decades ago, a teenage girl leaves her home and roams from bar to bar looking for a dance partner: “anyone will do”. She's popular, “young and sweet”, but a slave to the pursuit of pleasure. She won't stop until she finds the time of her life.
In August of 2011, Dutch tourists Guus Van Hove and Helena Nuellett set out into Death Valley’s Joshua Tree Park to find the iconic tree on the back cover of the U2 album. They took a wrong turn on the remote Black Eagle Mine Road and their car got stuck. They abandoned it and hiked back towards the main road in tennis shoes and straw hats and no water. A few hours later, their bodies were discovered by a local couple on an evening drive: the tourists had died of heat stroke on their walk back. The tree on the album cover was actually photographed 200 miles north of Eagle Mine Road, in the Mojave Desert. And the tree fell down in 2003.
MOUNTAINS BEYOND MOUNTAINS ...
“It's that wanderlust,” continued the 30-year-old Mike Cahill [who discovered Van Hove and Nuellet] “Hiking anywhere in Joshua Tree, if you go out back in the backcountry, if you go over one hill, and then you see the next one, you want to go over the next one, at least that's what I get whenever I'm out there. It's hard for myself to stop.”
California is the land of illusions, Disneyland, haunted mansions, and Hollywood - a city which lies at the centre of a centreless city. The promise of death, collapse, dehydration, oil rig fires, and abandonment are part of the beauty of the landscape: ‘...the emptiness, the radical nudity that is the background of every human institution. At the same time they designated human institutions as a metaphor of that emptiness and the work of man as the continuity of the desert, culture as a mirage and as the perpetuity of the simulacrum.’
Rock and roll is a mirage of affects, afterglows, and images. 1973: Graham Parsons overdoses in room 8 of the Joshua Tree Inn on Twentynine Palms Highway. While his body was waiting to be flown back to his family in Tennesse, Michael Martin and Phil Kaufmann were getting wasted. They remembered their dead friend's wish to have his ashes spread at Joshua Tree. They pulled up at the Los Angeles National Airport in a black Cadillac hearse, conned the cargo manager, signed off as "Jeremy Nobody" and drove the casket to Cap Rock. They opened the casket, poured gasoline, and lit a match.
LIQUIDATION - EVERYTHING MUST GO !!
The last grace stroke of a video which laments and rejoices in the desert is a shot of an Everything Now sign in flames and the line "...the ashes of everything now". Even when burnt to a crisp, everything persists - matter is infinite. “To discover that one can exult in the liquidation of all culture and rejoice in the consecration of indifference.” Over every hill is a valley - another primal scene, another rebirth.