Ben Gibbard Writes About Jack Kerouac And Himself For PASTE

Indie rock lyricist guys love Jack Kerouac. Just ask Craig Finn. Or 10,000 Maniacs. Gibbard was in Beat-y Big Sur working on songs for Narrow Stairs. We’ve already heard, and discussed the length of, “I Will Possess Your Heart.” Now you can discuss the length of this article Gibbard wrote, using Kerouac as a way to enter a larger discussion about what possesses his own heart. Sorry. As he opens (via Paste):

Why did I think I was going to come here and have this place change my life? I wanted it so badly, as I’m sure Kerouac did. I wanted to cleanse myself with this place. I’d spent years wondering what it looked like, wondering what it would be like to be here. And now here I am, sleeping in the same room Kerouac slept in. I’m walking the same path he walked when he came to the beach and wrote. Jack Kerouac sat here and wrote poems about the sound of the ocean. He sat right here.

Maybe not right here, but close, Ben. After the dramatic opening, he offers some interesting, smart thoughts on the wine-drunk author and his legacy, while also, yes, reflecting back on his own damn self…


…If you tell certain people that you like Kerouac, they assume that’s all you read, like you don’t know anything else about literature. I recognize all the things that people dislike about the way he writes–his tone and the sentimentality of it all. But those books (note: On The Road, Big Sur, etc.) were there for me at a very important point in my life….

…Because of my age and what I do for a living and the amount of time that I’ve spent away from my family and loved ones, I’m starting to relate more to the late-period Kerouac stuff in the way that I once related to the fun and excitement of the early material. There’s a darkness inside of me that I’m only now starting to come to grips with and accept. And it’s starting to scare me.

He gets pretty candid about Death Cab, too.

Before I made a living playing music, I used to work shitty job after shitty job and think “Man, as soon as I’m able to make a living in music, it’s really going to come together then, it’s really going be amazing.” I remember hoping there’d be 10 people at a show in 1998 when there was an incredible write-up in the local weekly. I don’t want to go back to that period of being obscure and having nobody know who I am, let alone have to struggle to get people to come to the show. I remember what it was like, and it was shitty.

Since then, Death Cab has become one of those weird cultural fenceposts–people align their tastes on one side or the other. It’s weird when people come up to me, music people, snobby, critical kind of people. It’s almost like they’re confessing to me that they like my band: “I gotta tell ya, I really, really like that new record. I heard the first record, and I kinda thought that was OK, and I kinda tuned out. But your band is really a lot better than people give it credit for.”

Sean Nelson said it best: “No one likes what I like, that’s how I like it.” It’s as though people think, “I’m such an individual that I like things that nobody’s even heard of before. I went out of my way to find music and books and movies that are so obscure that I am an individual, and I am interesting because I like interesting things.” But that’s not true. Liking interesting things doesn’t make you interesting.

You can’t have it both ways. You can’t be successful and critically acclaimed by everybody who likes the cool things you like. Would I want to go back to our first album? I remember what it was like to have one record out and have there be 10 journalists at these alt-weeklies around the country being like, “This is the greatest band that nobody’s heard of. You have to hear this Death Cab for Cutie record, Something About Airplanes, it is mind-blowing, it’s so good.” And the reality is, no, it’s not. It’s a decent record, but it’s by no means our best record. It’s our first record.

And, finally, some thoughts on “I Will Possess Your Heart.”

The single on our record is a work of fiction that was inspired by things that happened to some people close to me. It’s called “I Will Possess Your Heart,” and it’s eight-and-a-half minutes long. It’s five minutes of build and then a three-minute song. The song is basically about a stalker. It’s about this nice guy who wants this girl he can’t have, and he believes they’ll be together once she realizes how great he is–he just has to wait it out. That’s the part that makes the song really creepy, the delusion of thinking that they were meant to be together. It’s a really dark song. A lot of the material is about the inevitable disappointment people feel as they move through life, and things don’t feel the way they expect. No experience will ever match up to the idealized version in your mind.

If you’re interested, he continues into a part three. It’s pretty in-depth. Maybe check it all out over lunch.