VICE: Andrew W.K. on Life, Love, and Pushing the Limits

Andrew W.K. on Life, Love, and Pushing the Limits | VICE

Each week for the past six months, VICE has run a column by rock star/motivational speaker/party philosopher/positive life force Andrew W.K. It is called “Andrew W.K. on.” Or, I should say, was. This week, “Andrew W.K. on” comes to an end. It was never meant to last forever. In fact, the task at hand seemed so daunting we weren’t sure it would even last this long.

The idea from the beginning was pretty clear cut. Each column featured Andrew writing in-depth on a singular topic, distilling it down to its essence, flipping it on its head, holding it up to the light, and examining it in total. We’ve covered a ton of ground.

Over the weeks, Andrew wrote about everything from the possible existence of ghosts to the undeniable pleasure of tacos, from the unmitigated joy of comic books to the thrills and spills of gambling—concrete subjects he approached from every conceivable angle with his unique perspective. But he also wrote oodles on the ethereal, life itself, and the complex and intense emotions that confront us all throughout its inevitable ups and downs. He wrote about how an act of pure kindness changed his life forever, how to get back up from the mat after life has knocked you down with a brutal gut punch of grief, and how profound lessons can be learned in the face of unspeakable tragedies. He wrote about how small lessons are often buried within life’s mundanities, too. There are some powerful and sharp insights contained within Andrew’s six months’ worth of columns. Now that the project has run its course as he finishes up his new album (his first in several years), we invite you to revisit them all. Below you’ll find some of Andrew’s most profound bits of wisdom. Party on.

—Brian McManus

On Hitting Rock Bottom

In the first half of our lives, we reinforce and advertise this version of who we are to the world and to ourselves. It takes an extraordinary amount of energy and dedication to maintain it and keep it all congruent and held together. It can be a full-time job, just shoring up of this flimsy superficial construction of identity. And all along, deep down inside, we fear that all of this has very little to do with who we really are.

When the “fall” happens, we’re forced by tragedy or a failure so deep—smashing into the rock bottom of the chasm in our soul—that our container is shattered and all the parts of who we thought we were show themselves to merely be a thin shell.

Sometimes we begrudgingly abandon this identity, sometimes we abandon it and rejoice. But being forced through a humbling coming-to-terms encounter with the puzzle of our true inner self will never allow us to reassemble the Humpty Dumpty pieces of our old identity again. We have seen who we are, for better and worse, and this instills humility, compassion, and freedom. The freedom to just be, instead of having to always be “me.” The world opens up. There is more clarity and also more confusion. Possibilities that once appeared binary reveal themselves to be infinite. Questions that were once black-and-white now appear prismatic. There is less certainty and more openness. The self remains a magnificent mystery, but it’s now finally free to be that mystery fully, no longer squeezed into the container of identity. (January 4)

On Psychedelics

Words, of course, are going to fail me here. But there was an undeniable sense that I was experiencing the world as it actually was. The other drug experiences I’d had before this didn’t expose reality to me in this way. Through them I always had a sense of self, a point of observation that I understood to be “me.” In those experiences, I was still seeing the world as I had always understood it to be, just with an additional type of enhancement or distortion. This particular time, the experience had no relationship to anything previous. One marked difference was that there was no empty space. Everything was solid, as though I could see every molecule filling the air between me and the surrounding walls. Everything melted away into nothingness, but into a nothingness that contained within it all. (January 11)

On Pressure

We are here to grow. We are here to expand. The fruits of our labor are not meant to free us from labor, but to allow us to earn the right to pursue more noble and refined types of labor—to improve the nature of labor we devote ourselves to, and increase our ability to take on ever more challenging pursuits, to engage in greater and greater work. What I understand now about my piano recitals that I hated so much was that they weren’t supposed to be easy or pleasurable, but they had a goodness hidden inside them that made even the unpleasant parts meaningful. They were evidence of a process. They were proof of something becoming something more, or something becoming someone, a person becoming a human being. (September 28)

On Meditation

Meditation is simply a type of thoughtfulness, an active inactivity that seeks to simultaneously free us from the need to concentrate. It’s a sort of nothingness that reveals an everythingness. These paradoxes define the texture of meditation, but in the spirit of contradiction, the point of meditation is that there is no point. Even this is also not the point. And though thinking about it hard enough (while not thinking at all) is enough to make your mind explode, I choose to rejoice in the absurdity of the entire pursuit. (October 13)

On Autumn

Autumn brings previews of the cold bleakness of the months ahead, and with it, time to work on one’s inner life. Spring may be the season of rebirth, at least in terms of the non-human realm of the natural world, but for the human self, autumn seems to encourage inner rejuvenation. As a chill sets into the air, I feel a natural inclination to withdraw into myself, and enjoy rebuilding the indoors of my mind and surroundings. (October 26)

On Life’s Ups and Downs

Every part of life’s rich experience counts, and we are robbing ourselves when we don’t seek to extract something valuable from the full spectrum of our experiences, even those that don’t register as feeling great. We are often told that many natural shades of emotion—sadness, anxiety, melancholy—are “not good” by the abstract pressures of society, that we’re meant to be happy-go-lucky 24 hours a day. We are often encouraged to overcome our darker feelings, or conquer them, or escape them, or vanquish them like we would a horrible monster.

But more and more, it occurs to me that maybe these emotional sensations are not there to be overcome, eliminated, or numbed out, but appreciated. (I should note here that I’m not talking about pure suffering, deep depression, terrible atrocities, or debilitating trauma, but the everyday doubts that holds us back.) I’ve tried to harness them or use them as fuel. We can reinterpret these “bad” feelings and use our imagination to find some value in them, let them teach us about ourselves and the world. (December 14)

On Encouragement

In matters of the heart, matters of creativity, I don’t think it ever helps to rain on someone’s parade. No one who is devoting themselves to something they truly love has ever been swayed by a friend or parent or acquaintance telling them they are bad at it. It just hurts their feelings or fills them with resentment. (December 21)

On Growth

But carrying those kinds of feelings—a soul heavy with dread—can take its toll. So over the years, I’ve made more and more of a rigorous effort to try and sublimate this inner despair that has colored so many of my experiences and perspectives. I do this by finding tiny moments of unquestionable joy and holding on to them tight. Things like music and laughter and inspiring encounters with culture were undeniably uplifting, so I surrounded myself with these things to find small bits of relief and motivation, some pin pricks of light in a vast sea of darkness. These experiences were often fleeting and short-lived, but the impressions they left on me were long-lasting. If I could feel this radiant joy even for a moment, maybe there was a way to hold onto it for longer. Maybe even forever? (December 29)

On Finding (and Following) Your Passion

This has led me to believe your passion is thrust on you whether you particularly like it or not. This is a disorienting and challenging experience—finding out that what you’re meant to do with your life is different than what you feel like doing. It then becomes a matter of whether you have the fortitude to withstand the demands this passion will put on you. Do you have what it takes to follow it? It’s almost as if your passion is also passionate about you. Your destiny is trying to pep you up so that you can go and do the stuff that you’re meant to do. For me that was a huge breakthrough: that what you are born to do might not even be something you completely enjoy doing in the typical personal sense, but are compelled to do nevertheless. You love it and hate it. “The only thing worse than writing,” author Richard Price once said, “is not writing.” (February 22)

On Working Out

Over the past ten years, especially, I’ve noticed exercise has given me a direct outlet to channel anger and rage, and can turn a bad day around. There is something undeniably magical about taking a negative feeling and literally pushing it out of yourself and into a weight, and having that action result in a positive development for your body and overall health. That is true alchemy: taking the lead of negative emotions and transmuting them into golden energy. (March 8)

On Loving Your Enemy

Love and hope for all humanity is not a naïve fantasy. As always, love remains the only answer. And we need it now more than ever. (November 18)

Follow Andrew W.K. on Twitter. All illustrations for “Andrew on” were done by Tallulah Fontaine.