In “Just Let Go,” the most raw and emotionally satisfying track from Sturgill Simpson’s Metamodern Sounds In Country Music, the singer looks within before turning his gaze outward and graduating to a feeling of wholeness. “Woke up today and decided to kill my ego / It ain’t ever done me no good no how / Gonna break through and blast off to the Bardo / In them flowers of light far away from the here and now.” While perhaps not a literal gesture toward intergalactic exploration, the song — and much of the album — paints Sturgill a veteran of the “overview effect” (a term used to describe a phenomenon experienced by astronauts who gain a “profound understanding of the interconnection of all life” after viewing Earth from the fresh perspective that outer space provides). “Just Let Go” continues, “But am I dreaming or am I dying / Either way I don’t mind at all / It feels so good you just can’t help but crying / You have to let go so the soul can fall.”
On the day Metamodern Sounds was released, Sturgill and his band played an in-store at Grimey’s. Before the set, he was sitting behind the building with his bandmates. We’d spoken on the phone a couple weeks prior, and I wanted to say hello, but I made my introduction by interrupting a conversation he was having with guitarist Laur Joamets. I felt like an asshole. He’s only five years older than me, but part of me looks up to him. We’ve both beaten ourselves up pretty bad, and I can identify with many of the conclusions he’s beginning to draw for himself. Not because that’s where I’m at, entirely, but because that’s where I feel I’m heading. I chalk the nervousness up to being a nervous person, but building him up in my head didn’t help my case. Sturgill was gracious.
I asked him if he was overwhelmed. He made reference to his incoming Twitter feed. It’s a lot to take in. I mumbled something about seeing that he’d reached #23 on the iTunes album charts. He replied, asking what that really meant for him. Good question. What it meant was that, at that moment, he was marginally more popular than Sarah McLachlan, though whatever jumbled version of the joke I said flopped before it even left my lips. On the surface, the ranking meant people were listening. Some were probably even getting his message, and that has to count for something. In its first week the album reached #59 on the Billboard 200, and #11 on the Billboard Country chart. Again, that has to count for something. But what it means, I don’t really know.
The I’s here aren’t meant to make this about me, but the more the album sinks in, the more it feels like it is about me. It’s about us all. We all have our own versions of a “15 year psychobabble existentialistic dilemma.” Some take longer. Some never materialize. It’s hard to let go of personal failures and instances that could have been handled better, just as it’s hard to let go of hoping that anyone else still remembers any of the successes or victories along the way. We all have our issues. Moving on isn’t always as easy as physically moving forward. Letting go is tough. Yet here we are.
In an email earlier this week for another article, Daniel Pujol wrote, “I think making something outside myself that explains a thought, argument, or idea to me helps me get a touchstone. A consolidated reference point. Like learning a new word. I can move on from the thought after externalizing it.” That’s what this album feels like, or at least what reacting to the album in public through online comment feels like. It’s a terrible pattern we’re in, reminiscing about a moment that’s barely finished happening. Consider me guilty. But in listening to the music and trying to make sense of it all, I feel like I’m better off for having experienced it. Up 300,000 feet and now safely back down, having seen it all from a new point of view. It’s a lesson I’m learning far too late in life, but: even when you don’t have anything to give, give your gratitude. All I can do now is just say thanks.
Related Feature → The Metamodern Gospel of Sturgill Simpson