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Fright: Coming face-to-face with 2 Faced Pumpkin
A psychodynamic review of their EP, Why???????
By psychologist, Dr. Bruce L. Thiessen, aka, Dr. B.L.T.
Halloween is rapidly approaching, and so is the rise of this band, scary though that may seem to some--certainly spelling buffs. Why would a band spell their name "2 faced pumpkin" on the cover, and "2 faced pumpkin"on the CD itself? Is there a true spelling error, or are we purposely led to jump to that erroneous conclusion? Maybe the ostensible spelling error has something to do with the 2 faces of the pumpkin. I can't answer that question, but I will try to answer other questions that arose as I put on my psychoanalytic hat on and attempted to analyze this CD to death. The CD makes the most sense when one considers that the band is made up of adolescents.
Adolescence is, frankly, frightening. First, there are the usual suspects, and the unusual vicissitudes associated with being a human being in the throes of the first decade of a new millennium. Second, the constant threat of global terror is more real than it has ever been.
Third, the core values that once held individuals, families, and society as a whole, together, are being systematically replaced by an amoral mode of operation, marked by cultural relativism, and an incremental erosion of moral clarity. There are fewer and fewer Gary Bauers in the world---folks who will hold on to, and vehemently defend, the Judeo-Christian values that this nation once whole-heartedly embraced as a foundation for living.
Fourth, our increasingly technologically-based, industrial society has led to lives that are faster-paced, less dependent on genuine, authentic human interaction and intimacy, and more vulnerable to the development of a host of psychological illnesses and states of emotional crisis.
Superimpose the aforementioned burdens upon the burden of youth, and you're left with a chilling, frightening, daunting situation. Without consideration for the broader issues identified above, adolescents are faced with a unique set of developmental challenges and, often painful emotional, cognitive, and physical transitions.
Why??????? could be looked upon by Christian psychologists, like myself, as, either an abysmal expression of utter darkness and depravity, to be avoided at all costs, or, a dark corner that requires examination in the light of psychology and scripture. I find it most productive to adopt the latter of these orientations.
On the cover of the CD are four photos of pumpkins and jack-o'-lanterns, in various arrangements. The photo on the bottom left hand corner is a purging pumpkin. More specifically, it is a jack-o'-lantern, with arms attached and clinging to the edges of a toilet seat, with its head, and thus, its body, positioned in front of the open seat of that toilet, purging itself of its pumpkin contents. This picture of a brutal catharsis mirrors the music of the band.
Open the CD J-card and more pictures are revealed, some, pictures of the band jamming, having fun, or simply hanging out together. Interspersed among these rather benign photos are a few rather disturbing symbols, one incorporating a skull and bones arrangement set within in a cryptic black circle, another, a drawing of a putatively, angry, man with spiked, zig-zagged mohawk haircut, and a chain and locked padlock around his neck. On the bottom left-hand corner are two young men, likely band members, simultaneously flipping off and mooning unsuspecting observers who happen to turn the page. As a psychologist, and a Christian, I asked myself: How much of this is spiritual depravity, how much is manifestation of normal adolescent rebellion, and how much of this is a reflection of psychological disturbance? It is, after all, an artistic expression of art? Why should I muddy the waters, and take away from art for art's sake by introducing another load of psychobabble?
Why??????? Well, first of all, psychobabble is a pejorative term, implying that there is no value in the application of legitimate terms that reflect a psychological perspective. I hope my words will be received, not as gratuitous psychobabble, but as an avenue for communicating ideas that inject insight into dialogue within the artistic community, even as they further the artistic process.
As a psychologist, I studied the CD from a developmental perspective. I was aware of Margaret Mead's contribution to our understanding of the effects of an ever-changing cultural milieu on the phenomenon of adolescence, including the delay in entry into the workforce that was ushered into society as the result of 20th century legislation. This sociocultural event left adolescents with more time on their hands, and a greater sense of dependency on parental support. The old saying that "Idle hands are the devil's workshop," may have some validity to it. Couple this with the apparent fact that our society has become bereft of adequate role models for teens, and a perilous prospect ensues.
I was aware of the biological changes that accompany adolescents, the sexual maturation, and the rush of hormones that have the potential of adding insult to injury if not channeled effectively. Where is the moral guidance that directs the flow of raw instinct? Parents are too busy to provide it, and, in some cases, devoid of a sense of moral wisdom to step up to the challenge.
One could make the argument that, in terms of Freud's psychosexual stages of development, it appears that at least the more influential members of 2 faced pumpkin are fixated at the anal stage, not simply because they like to moon their fans, but because of the open flouting of authority and tradition that is apparent in some of the music, and in the photos. Such an argument, however tempting to adopt, would need to be ruled out via an in depth interview each member of the band: Brandon Hall, who plays some killer bass, even as he deftly sings; Chris Young, who plays guitar like he was playing it ever since he left his mother's womb; and David Hopper, who delivers some undoubtedly deft drumming on these tracks. Even after all of that, I could still be wrong.
The back of the CD is death warmed over: A jack-o'-lantern with a crooked smile, smothered in a consuming fire that extends well beyond the body of the jack o lantern itself. Fire can mean many things, but in the context of jack-o'-lanterns and punk music, it most likely symbolizes rage and fear.
The music of 2 faced pumpkin, is hard, fast and furious. If you are a teen, this is your dad's brand of punk resurrected from the dead. It is raw, unpolished punk, not the dulcified, post-punk pop exemplified in bands like Good Charlotte, or the Sex-Pistols-wanna-be-act known as Green Day.
The best thing about the EP, is that it is honest. The best thing about the band, is, ironically enough, that the band is not 2 faced. That is not to say that the band members don't have many layers to them, and not to say that all of the layers have been revealed in this one set of tunes. The problem is that the face we see, while handsome in some respects, has a few warts on it. We must face the 2 faced pumpkin, warts and all, if we are to understand the youth culture that the band seems to mirror.
The first song is Last in Line. It expresses a sense of being the outcast, the underdog, the loser. There is a sense of deterministic fatalism in the song. If we examine this form of hopeless resignation in light of Erikson's stages of development, there are signs contained within the song that members of the band may have failed at nearly all of the developmental challenges they were faced with though out the course of their hitherto lives. Where's the sense of trust? Where is the autonomy? Where is the sense that initiative will lead to positive results? Where is the sense of industry? In this song, all I seem to hear is a deep sense of inferiority, anger, and despair. Mastering each of the developmental stages associated with characteristics of human development such as trust, autonomy, initiative and industry, is essential before the defining adolescent challenge of adequate formation of identity can be accomplished. Of course, this is only the first song, so I will refrain from forcefully asserting my hypotheses.
It would be a bit of a stretch to suggest that the second song on the EP, I'll be Here, is an expression of undying loyalty and commitment. It sounds more like an expression of masochism, desperation and co-dependency (for lack of a better term). At this point, being a psychologist who has adopted an object-relations perspective, I ask myself what role early childhood experiences with parental figures may have played in the development of a sick relationship like the one depicted in this song. Understanding that family relationships are central to human development, I asked myself what sort of dysfunctional homes these young men might have come from. Of course all of us have a few tales of dysfunction to tell, but my gut feeling tells me that these lads may be telling a taller tale than the average Joe, if there is such a thing as an average Joe.
No matter how dysfunctional our past may be, we all organize our experience in different ways. 2 faced pumpkin seem to create a certain ironic order out of chaos, in a desperate effort to create meaning out of their lives. Cognitive developmental theorist, Jean Piaget, had a great deal to say about how folks, and particularly teens, organize their lives in order to make sense out of the world. The fancy word I like to throw around concerning this is Weltanschauung. It has to do with our world view---our way of looking at the world. According to Piaget, how we view the world is entirely based upon how far we've developed or advanced in terms of our intellect. For Piaget, adolescents who have advanced in a normal, expected manner, should have moved beyond concrete explanations of events and the universe to a more abstract and logically-based orientation.
Maybe there are signs here of some movement in the direction of autonomy, initiative and industry. It all depends on what the writer had in mind when he wrote the song. I get the feeling he was speaking of a young lady subjected to a domineering, control freak of a boyfriend.
Do I Know this Song? If it was not intended to be an instrumental, then the answer is, unequivocally, no! If it was intended to be an instrumental, then not only does the band know it, but they know how to deliver it with intensity and passion. It is relentless, punishing, pure punk. It lasts for just one minute and fifty-one seconds, par for the course, if you're Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Three, or a punk band.
The next track, Just Can't Wait expresses an eagerness to get together with someone, and a frustration with the business of life that seems to get in the way. Are these simply the sounds of rushing hormones, or is the song that most closely approximates what Erikson referred to as the struggle between intimacy and isolation? If it is the latter, then it appears that members of the band are at least laying the groundwork for a developmental task that isn't typically accomplished until early adulthood, between the ages of 20 and 40. My hunch is that it is the former. I could be wrong.
The last track takes us back to Erikson's very first stage of development-the stage characterized by a struggle for trust. The song's lyrics suggest that the establishment of basic trust has never occurred, or, if it has, some sort of regression has set in. What are Friends For? advances the notion that friends are good for nothing and can't be trusted. Members of the band may have experienced betrayal on a very profound level, perhaps beginning in infancy. If that is the case, trust is incredibly difficult to establish, especially if other abandoning, betraying individuals have entered and existed the scene since those early experiences with parental figures.
On the back of the CD, the band expresses thanks to Carol Hernandez and The Professional Latina Women's Association for getting them their first gig. They thank James Hopper for letting them use his studio and for recording and mixing their CD. They thank everyone who, in their words, "...has been there to tell us truthfully what they thought wo (another apparent spelling error) could do better. They go on to thank their family's (another apparent spelling error) for supporting them. Then, these unexpected words leap out at the very end, "And Last but most important, God. Amen." The word "Last" spelled with a capital "L" may, in fact be a Freudian slip. I don't see any sign of God coming first in the lyrics, or anywhere else on the CD for that matter, but perhaps there is something I am not seeing. Maybe they are hiding their God-seeking face for fear that embracing God could lead to premature maturation.
Gratitude and the expression
of gratitude is a sign of maturity. Hmmm. Maybe I shouldn't have
read the book (or, in this case, the CD) by its cover. There are
clearly signs of slow, if erratic, movement up the developmental scale.
Each member is likely at a different stage of emotional and cognitive development.
Each member is likely taking one step forward and two steps back.
It's all about being an adolescent. When it comes to developing from
a teen-ager to a mature adult, capable of intimacy on a human and a divine
level, it has never been more challenging than in this decade of decadence.
Each stage of development is, in many respects, more frightening than the
one that came before. We must face each stage of the developmental
process with resolute courage and faith in our creator. Otherwise
we succumb to stage fright and all of the dangers that lie therein.
Musically, this CD is not bad at all, but, cover-to-cover it is a bittersweet
EP. I did manage to find enough sweetness to draw a small, slice
of pumpkin pie out of this scarry jack-o'-lantern, but in all honesty,
it took a great deal of effort. Quite frankly, I'm exhausted.
But I'm also hungry. Where's the whip cream?