"Now, he thought, that all these transitory things have slipped away from me again, I stand once more beneath the sun, as I once stood as a small child. Nothing is mine, I know nothing, I possess nothing, I have learned nothing. How strange it is! . . . He had to smile again. Yes, his destiny was strange! He was going backwards, and now he stood empty and naked and ignorant in the world. But he did not grieve about it; no, he even felt a great desire to laugh, to laugh at himself, to laugh at this strange foolish world."
– Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha
The Trappist monk Thomas Merton once wrote that those who dare to penetrate the silence, to advance into the solitude of their own heart and lonely contemplation of their selves and their creator, will–as he put it–"truly recover the light." You wonder if Andrew W.K. ever read Merton; if he'd ever paged through a Trappist tract on one of his innumerable solo bus rides from early gig to early gig, a karaoke machine and backing tape under his seat and the music in his head washing out everything else he'd ever known. Because he put it better: "I have no best friends, really," he told someone once. "No friends, and that's cool. That's the way to get this blasting true."
Like Hesse's child-man, he finds truth in negation, liberation from the mundane in a life led as one long party. "The uncharted territory is that there is no line to be crossed," Andrew once wrote. This is a party without end.
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Andrew–a man by every published account so dionysiacally upbeat and friendly that he makes the clowns who visit children's cancer wards look as dour as British morticians, so unfailingly personable that to refer to him as "W.K." should be reserved strictly for law enforcement officials–speaks a lot about truth. Certainly, his published lyrics may be disyllabic riffs on the word party–"It's Time to Party," "Party 'Til You Puke," raised-pick-up-truck jam "Party Hard"–and he may yet high-kick his way into history with only some well-stocked used CD bins and the back covers of a million closet-bottomed old magazines to mark his fiery passing. But history is always unfairest to truth, and Andrew, more so than all but a few artists in the 20th century and any at all in the 21st, cares deeply about creating something true. Behind that mask of blood (for which he smashed his own nose) and those panting martial dance routines pulses the fevered mind of a Hegel, a Dostoevsky, a John Keely–a seeker.
"We possess a brain," Andrew wrote in what some fans–particularly a militant subsect called the AWKRA, who claim that Andrew's major-label backers have usurped his ideology–call a manifesto. "Let it black out. Let go into the void. Reach into it." Maybe this is why some critics have–even as praise–called him stupid. But they don't understand. Andrew is far from stupid (indeed, in totum, his exegesis–spread across websites and interviews with third-tier college newspapers–is as detailed and dense as the Bhagavad-Gita); instead, he's aligned with something like the Buddhist/Taoist philosophy of Wu-Wei (literally, "non-doing"), a path to enlightenment that demands the annihilation of categorization. There we find his admirably catholic musical tastes ("I like tons of stuff, really," he told the Onion. "I just look at it as freedom"), the impetus for his onstage tsunamis, the restive sparks inside him.
Alan Sillitoe named it as the loneliness of the long-distance runner; it was the last thing Japanese kamikaze pilots could hold on to as they dipped their fighters beneath the horizon. (In 2002, cherry-blossom flight manuals came to light: Exert the best in yourself. Be always pure-hearted and cheerful. Spirit and skill are one. At the very moment of impact: do your best. Transcend life and death.) This is what Andrew knows: transcendence through intensity, diligence, punishment, positivity, even pain, but transcendence always alone. It's Hesse and Merton's solitude, a return to a contemplative childhood world: "I'm going to fucking blow my mind out," he once said. "Take a huge bite out of my brain." To Andrew W.K., that is the party.
Andrew W.K. performs at the Warped Tour at Pomona Fairplex, 1101 W. Mckinley, Pomona, (909) 623-3111. Tues., Noon. $27; and at Cal State Long Beach's Athletic Field, 1250 Bellflower Blvd., Long Beach, (714) 740-2000. Fri., July 11, Noon. $27.