Lucas Nathan (aka Jerry Paper) considers language as a tool for exploring ideas rather than fully forming them, and examines how each listener is in a unique position to interpret his music.
As a young person conditioned as a man in 1990s America I never found it easy to express myself verbally. Music became a revelation of expression and emotion for me; an outlet that seemed to rise above the limitations that I felt with language. Through music I could tap into the feelings that my man-mind told me I had to struggle against. Through melodies and rhythms I found freedom from the language trap I found myself in day after day.
When Baby Jerry climbed out of the petri dish in January of 2012, I felt I had a cosmic mission to get outside the framework of communication that was set for me. I wanted to spread the gospel of music as a cosmic beam of meaning, something transcending the futility of verbal expression.
After nearly a decade of musical and personal growth, words and music sit quite differently in my world. Where my old music focused on the limitations of language, my new music embraces the power of language. Through psychoanalysis and self-reflection, I am in the midst of shedding my gendered conditioning. Over the course of the last several years I’ve been in the long, slow process of learning not to resist my feelings, and through this I’ve come to understand the role of language in a new way.
When I was younger and more uncomfortable in my words, I felt that I needed to know what I was saying before I could say it, especially when it came to my emotions, which I found always to be in conflict with my “logical” mind. I now try to engage with language as a process instead of it as an end in and of itself. I am discovering language as a tool for exploring ideas as opposed to a way of presenting them fully formed. I have come to understand that I can intimately learn about the many facets of myself by talking through my problems instead of talking myself out of them.
I am still enamoured by the effectiveness of music as a mode of self-expression, but instead of viewing it as something antithetical to language I’ve come to see it as an extension of it. Songs are built with their own kind of grammar and sounds, rather than being cosmic beams of meaning, and are symbols from which people can make their own meaning. Instead of acting as distillations of meaning from me to you, songs and sentences alike are processes of thought and exploration. The deeper I embed this lesson in myself the freer I feel to flow through life as the unpredictable, improvised process that it is. It makes me less judgemental of others and less judgemental of myself.
In the midst of my efforts to integrate this new freedom into my life, my new album Abracadabra materialised. While not all the songs deal directly with the theme of language, the album feels emblematic of this time of linguistic exploration for me.
When I listen back to my old music now, hearing my voice spouting an (ironically) verbal rejection of language, it’s hard for me to connect to the sentiment at its core. After years of making and releasing music it is clear to me that instead of being the perfect, direct form of communication that I’d imagined it as, I understand music as the deeply imperfect form of communication it truly is.
The beauty and meaning of music comes from precisely that imperfection. I don’t have control over what meaning people make from my music. In fact, I’m sure my songs mean very different things to me than they do to others. The ideas and feelings I attempt to get across to the listener are mutated in so many ways by who is listening to it and the circumstances of their lives—the circumstances in which they listen—that the listener has as much of an active part in creating the artwork as the artist does.
Art is fun and fulfilling to make in itself, but it truly takes on its life in the minds of other people. Giving up the illusion that I can control the meaning of my music has led me to embrace the listener’s role in creating the meaning of the music for themselves every time they listen. My music is a process of discovery just as my speech is a process of discovery; it’s only mine while I’m making it. When I release it into the world, it exists not as a concentrated ball of meaning but as a catalyst for other people’s personal experiences. I think that’s just beautiful.