The Lifehouse Conundrum

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September 24, 2013 by NowhereButPop

By Andrew Doscas

The Lifehouse Conundrum is an idea that I’ve mentioned in a few articles already, but by all accounts I practically put the idea on the shelf for a whole year before I decided to actually delve into an explicit and fully formed article covering this complex.  By my count the Lifehouse Conundrum has only come up in three articles wherein I use the term to describe someone who is afflicted with genius in one capacity or another.  Named after the failed Who album, the Lifehouse Conundrum is similar to the Advanced Genius Theory developed by Jason Hartley.  The biggest difference is that while the A.G.T. suggests that people can retroactively become geniuses or “Advanced”, the Lifehouse Conundrum states that genius is an innate trait that cannot be learned or attained.  The Lifehouse Conundrum is absolute, you either have it or you don’t.

To sum up what exactly the Lifehouse Conundrum is in one sentence would look something like this: “The Lifehouse Conundrum is a complex given to someone (most visibly in the case of an entertainer) who is so adept and intuitively knowledgeable about something that their expertise in that field leads them to be alienated by everyone else, largely due to the fact that no one else can understand their complex and robust thoughts and ideas”.  In a sense their genius in a particular area has become a curse, hence the term “afflicted with genius”.  It leads to a failure to communicate such massive and intricate ideas that the subject is usually driven to certain extremes because of their inability to successfully communicate and express themselves, which is borne from their own talents and understanding.

Pete Townshend was the first such example I found who exhibited this characteristic, as such the complex is named after the ultimate expression of his inaccessible genius, the failed Lifehouse album.  In short, Lifehouse was supposed to be an interactive rock opera where the band and fans would feed off each other.  The plot of the rock opera was a cross between the Matrix, 1984, Tommy, and the Woodstock festival.[1]  The reason why the project was aborted was because no one else except for Pete Townshend could comprehend what the hell he was trying to do.  His innate aptitude for music led to a break between him and most other people and it was after the project failed to materialize that he began to abuse alcohol and drugs, and developed an unhealthy amount of self-loathing.  He realized that he knew too much for his own good, that few others could understand him, and more importantly relate to him, and so it drove a wedge between him and those who couldn’t understand him (everyone not named Pete Townshend).  His musical genius took him to too high of a height where it started to become a detriment.  The Lifehouse Conundrum is all about those whose talents and genius serves as a detriment.

The best way to illuminate further on the Lifehouse Conundrum is to provide examples of those who have it.  That way it’s easier for you to see connections between the examples, and for you to draw your own conclusions.  Below is a table consisting of four categories and appropriate examples thereof.

Those afflicted by the Lifehouse Conundrum Those who think they have the Lifehouse Conundrum….but don’t Those who want to have the Lifehouse Conundrum Those who don’t have the Lifehouse Conundrum
Pete Townshend Aldous Huxley Roger Waters Madonna
Orson Welles Lady Gaga Lou Reed John Lennon
George Orwell Axl Rose Stanley Kubrick Kurt Cobain
Prince Andrew Doscas James Cameron Quentin Tarantino
Leonardo Di Vinci Grant Morrison Chuck Klosterman Pablo Picasso
Virginia Woolf Kanye West Lana Del Rey Phil Jackson
David Foster Wallace Lisa Simpson Jim Morrison Alan Moore

While this is not an all inclusive list, I have to stress one important thing: the Lifehouse Conundrum in itself is not an inherently good or bad thing to have, just as it isn’t necessarily beneficial or disadvantageous to those who don’t have it; it simply is.  The general trend however shows people who have the Lifehouse Conundrum suffer for it.  Even though Da Vinci is considered to be the greatest genius of all time, not only was he limited by the simplicity of his times, but some of his ideas (like the plane) were criticized as being too farfetched and unfeasible.  No one realized just how great Orson Welles was until he, as Johan Hill put it “ate his fat ass to death”, and the reason why he ate his fat ass to death was because Hollywood had marginalized him for being too much of a visionary (and also too left leaning for even their liking).[2]

Someone like Prince, a mega pop-star, can have the Lifehouse Conundrum and still succeed.  It’s just in Prince’s case he’s so far ahead of everyone else musically speaking, that even if you don’t like it you still admit that it’s either 1) objectively good, or 2) just beyond your comprehension.  Realistically speaking, does anyone really think they know what’s going on in his head?  No, but we accept that fact because he’s done his own thing.[3]  In the case of Prince, he knows that his musical knowledge and capacity is above most other people, but he doesn’t let it get in the way; in fact he embraces it, and that’s why he still matters today.  Prince is probably the only example where someone has benefitted for having the Lifehouse Conundrum as it allows him to make music that no one else has ever heard before.  It keeps things interesting.

Those who think they have the Lifehouse Conundrum…but don’t are typically people who overestimate themselves and more often than not give themselves more credit than they deserve.  Aldous Huxley proved this point when he wrote Brave New World Revisited, as did Kanye West the moment he proclaimed himself to be “the voice of a generation”.  Even though these people are generally more aware and more capable at something than most other people, they aren’t in another stratosphere altogether.  Repeated attempts to describe themselves as geniuses or proclamations of intuitive greatness are subtle signs of not having the Lifehouse Conundrum.  They exaggerate themselves in order to explain themselves.  If they can explain themselves, then they are understood, if they are understood, then they don’t have the Lifehouse Conundrum.  Whereas the Lifehouse Conundrum is usually isolating, people who think they do…but don’t, usually want the attention and recognition of being distinct, instead of merely trying to relate their understanding of something to other people.

Lady Gaga and Lisa Simpson also fit this trend of misguided individuals who mistake a highly level of intelligence a transcendent genius.  Lisa Simpson is merely a big fish in a small pond; she’s conventionally smart, it’s just that she’s surrounded by morons.  Gaga tries to make a spectacle about her pop music, and tries to portray it as being bigger than music itself.  All of these expressions come from a place of self-inflated distinction.  These examples are in the limbo space of being above average, but not at the level of incomprehensible genius.  They think they are the latter instead of the former and try to make other people recognize it in themselves, usually for self-justifying reasons.

The tertiary group is made up of individuals who want to be burdened with transcendent and esoteric genius because it would validate and give extra meaning to their work.  Even though they might not fully comprehend the genius of those afflicted by the Lifehouse Conundrum, they know that it’s there, and as a result want that same genius for themselves.  What separates them from the previous category is that they know they don’t have the Lifehouse Conundrum, but some still spend their entire lives chasing it, trying to attain that which is unattainable.  This is why Jim Morrison wrote poetry, and why Roger Waters’ favorite album of all time is The Wall.[4]  The Wall is the closest Waters will ever get to the Lifehouse Conundrum, and Morrison’s poetry was a weird way for him to try and elevate his songs into an art.  But perhaps the most intriguing case would be that of Lou Reed.

For those who don’t know, Lou Reed thinks that he somehow changed the face of music and the course of music history itself.  He didn’t.  While people who like him, love him, he didn’t do anything that was objectively excellent and exceptionally odd at the same time.  Good Lou Reed is good Lou Reed and weird Lou Reed is weird Lou Reed.  What was weird was weird because it was weird, not because we didn’t get it.  Had this not been the case someone would have scored a hit record with an acoustic guitar and a vacuum cleaner by this point.  Lou Reed so desperately wants to be seen as some inaccessible genius that he says things that don’t make sense, and puts out an album with Metallica because he thinks that it will allow him to transcend himself.  Reed’s biggest failure is that he always thought he had to do something to get everyone’s respect and attention.  He sees the Lifehouse Conundrum as a sort of validation and justification for his entire career.

The final category was thrown in their just to differentiate those with the Lifehouse Conundrum with those who we think would have the Lifehouse Conundrum.  Kurt Cobain and John Lennon fit this bill perfectly.  Both have been labeled geniuses for the impact that they have had on the music industry, but it’s about time to settle the score.  Cobain, while being the face of the grunge movement, wasn’t a good musician; his lyrics suck and his guitar riffs are ripped off from other bands like Pixies or Boston.  The misidentification arises because of his troubled mind.  The truth is that it wasn’t his own ability that drove him mad, he had a history of depression and wasn’t ready to be as big as he had become.  He couldn’t deal with the pressure and fame that his music warranted.  It was the fact that his music was so relatable and well liked by everyone else.  In Utero is basically the sound of Cobain telling us that he didn’t have the Lifehouse Conundrum, he wanted to make shitty music that people wouldn’t like, distinctly for that purpose.  It was to say that he wasn’t a musical genius.

The same applies to John Lennon, as here was a guy who was the most visible member of the biggest band of all time.  There’ve been better and more innovative guitarists, and there’ve been better songwriters, but Lennon was the first big one.  Like Cobain, people mistake John Lennon the symbol for John Lennon the genius.  They see him as a symbol, as the physical embodiment of all his ideals and see his musical genius through that lens.  People see him as a genius because they love him and give him that title out of admiration, not out of distinction.  Lennon made simple music, excellent simple music, but simple music nonetheless.  After all, it was basic enough for billions of people to comprehend it.  But then again you can be a genius, but not have the Lifehouse Conundrum.

I don’t have the Lifehouse Conundrum; I think I do, but in all actuality I don’t.  To be honest, I couldn’t handle having the Lifehouse Conundrum.  I’m an extrovert, and worst of all I’m empathetic; I need to be around people, and I need to feel some semblance of an emotional tether.  There’s no way I could handle being isolated and incapable of expressing a passion of mine to other people.  I can only hope that this article makes sense, and isn’t too inaccessible.  It’s long and drawn out, but that’s the only way I could talk about it.  But if it doesn’t make sense, know that I don’t suffer from the Lifehouse Conundrum.  I am writing about it after all.

[1] The previous two sentences should sufficiently explain why this album never saw the light of day.

[2] Welles’ greatest contribution to civilization was unknowingly fooling New Jersey into think the earth was being attacked by Martians on October 31, 1938.  Barring Citizen Kane and Voodoo Othello, this is the most visible expression of his Lifehouse Conundrum.

[3] According to Kevin Smith, Prince likes to speak in vague sentence fragments, and also doesn’t understand why he can’t own a giraffe.

[4] I don’t mean his favorite Pink Floyd album, I mean his favorite album that has ever been produced.

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