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Motivated Reasoning

Finding Life in The Darkness

Frankie Poullain shares philosophy of dynamic living.

Dressed up in the emperor’s old clothes

And they’re pulling at a thread

Naked with your empty heart exposed

You will wish that you were dead

From “Rock and Roll Deserves to Die” by The Darkness (from Easter is Cancelled, out October 4th)

Why on earth did I continue to watch the video for "I Believe in a Thing Called Love" by The Darkness? I should have hated it. Do we really need another song about love that talks about listening to the rhythm of someone’s heart? I get it. You’re in love. It affects your heart. Can we move on?

Simon Emmett
The Darkness
Source: Simon Emmett

Problem is, I couldn’t move on. There I was, unable to take my eyes off of the screen and unwilling to cover my ears from the song.

You see, the thing is I actually do believe in a thing called love. I’m just not into mundane pontifications about it. So if the band were 100 percent serious, I would have dismissed them as delivering another vapid ode to love that was useless to me because I learned nothing. No, they were messing with us for sure. I believe it’s what the British refer to as “taking the piss.”

But if they were mocking love completely, I would have written them off then as well. Because, after all, what use do I really have for someone who doesn’t believe in love at all?

As time went on I realized I was missing the point. The point was I was churning — the song and video had animated me. And in talking with bassist Frankie Poullain I realized that I had absorbed the main message of The Darkness: life is meant to be dynamic. We are not meant to be complacent and stagnant. And rock and roll that doesn’t break from complacency needs to be dead.

Poullain explained this view of human nature, and why we need contrarians – people who challenge our beliefs. “Humans are contradictory in nature on a deep level. We don’t always voice that because we are trained to be logical and rational. Contrarians challenge human nature when human nature becomes complacent.” Poullain told me. “There’s a reason why presidents don’t stay in power for more than two terms, as corruption invariably sets in. Power, corruption and lies derive from comfort and complacency, so perhaps these are the real enemies.”

One of the processes by which we stay comfortable is confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is our tendency to access or even seek out information that is consistent with, rather than challenges our beliefs. Poullain sees this as a potentially harmful process – pulling us away from our inherently dynamic nature.

“It’s one of the great human blind spots isn’t it – confirmation bias? We tend to gravitate towards like, and people who have similar biases that we ourselves have. And you think that person’s wonderful, that person’s so correct! And you are in effect just puffing yourself up,” Poullain explained. “We have a song on this album called ‘Confirmation Bias.’ And the verse is ‘I love your hands when they are applauding my achievements. I love your eyes when they gaze upon me.’ And it’s done in a very tongue-in-cheek way. Laughing at ourselves in those moments of fleeting self-awareness is priceless.”

Being half British and half French, Poullain’s background stems from two opposing perspectives of confirmation bias. “Amongst the polite English middle classes, confirmation bias has a role to play in diffusing awkwardness. We say it’s the class thing and the Victorian values thing. But essentially it’s a nanny state – which means we’re supposed to be grateful just to be working for people who are above us and lording over us,” he said. “But being half French … it’s a very different set of values. They’re anti-authoritarian. And they distrust authority. And I think that’s very healthy.”

Historically, it was the philosophers and artists that often provided a check against the establishment. Poullain cites Socrates as one such figure in history. And he feels that the key to being anti-establishment is to be able to access a romantic, playful, almost childlike aspect of oneself -- the part of the self that is inherently disconnected from “establishment” motives. He considers such people to be the biggest badasses in history. “The important philosophers who have aged well were badasses. That’s why they have aged well. They stood alone. Socrates of course … He died for his beliefs, but the point is that those beliefs weren’t dogmatic or even fixed – they were playful and constantly evolving, never fixed,” Poullain said. “He relished turning preconceptions on their head – he was a contrarian. The legend of Socrates gave rise to all of your Aristotles and Platos and changed Western thought – defined Western thought.

“There's no greater badass than Socrates.”

And while Rock and Roll has a history of rebellion against the status quo, Poullain believes that it has, unfortunately, lost its contrarian spirit. “Rock and Roll’s job is to question – to embody the anti-establishment,” he said.

Rock and Roll deserves to die.”

However, in “I Believe in a Thing Called Love,” The Darkness is aiming to recapture that contrarian vibe that they feel once was the hallmark of good rock music. And by taking on the tried and true theme of love, but doing so in a more overtly playful and childlike way, they step outside the “business as usual” mold. “Justin is one of these artists who can access the inner child. And that song I think is childlike. And so-called childishness shouldn’t be dismissed or downplayed”, he explained. “We talk about the spectrum of 1 to ten. The majority of people live from 4 to 6 or maybe 3 to 7. And Rock n Roll needs to try to be that 1 to 10 guy. As a band we’ve always lived by the philosophy of everything that’s worth doing is worth overdoing. And we’ll take things to the extreme.

"Picasso said it took him a lifetime to paint like a child."

Poullain explained how The Darkness cultivates this dynamic, contrarian spirit in their songs. “We got into this thing called ‘Bonoing,’ because we read that Bono from U2 does this thing where he’d have the music playing in the next room and he’d improvise over it. And then when he’d go into the next room and listen back to it it’s like he could hear the actual words in his improvisations, through ‘suggestion’. And it’s a really nice way of catching the fish in that stream of consciousness,” Poullain described. “Then we’ve always had something called The Table of Truth -- just four of us around an old wooden table. Other times we’d have a microphone in the middle of the room and circle around it like tigers in the jungle, sniffing out the moments of inspiration, of poetic truth. Justin does the majority of the lyrics, but we’d all take turns circling around this microphone and we’d improvise an idea for a melody, an idea for a lyric.”

The Table of Truth would often descend into schoolboy antics, which Poullain feels helps maintain the more childlike nature of the music. “And of course we’d goad each other on. It’s probably not what people want to hear in this age of ‘toxic masculinity’. We’d toss imaginary chicken feed at anyone displaying a reluctance or wimping out. Or we’d start to imitate a chicken scratching his feet and accompanying noises,” he said. “That’s a little bit more old school. Playground mentality. And we do it because it reminds us of being children again, wild and free. We access our inner child, because the best of our material is basically childish.”

So now I have a better sense of why I like The Darkness and I hope you do as well. I can now listen to “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” without as much confusion. But don’t get too comfortable. Rock and roll may be dead.

But we don’t have to be.

More from Michael Friedman Ph.D.
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