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Andrew W.K.

The President of Partying

Nov 04, 2016 Photography by Azuree Wiitala Andrew W.K.
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When Andrew W.K. announced the formation of The Party Party in April, it was easy to dismiss as little more than an inspired pun by someone who never turns down an opportunity to spread his life-is-a-party performance art to every available venue. This is, after all, a man who has done an ad campaign for Kit-Kat, hosted a radio show on Glenn Beck’s TheBlaze network, and taped a TV special with celebricat Lil’ Bub: starting a political party ranks among the least outlandish entries on his resume. But spend a few minutes talking to him, and you’ll quickly realize that The Party Party is no joke. It is, in fact, the culmination of a career spent searching for the celebration lurking just underneath even the most mundane of events.

“I guess I feel that this is my calling,” he says. “Out of all the things I’ve ever tried to do in life, partying was the only thing I really excelled at. The reason it’s important to me personally is that partying saved my life. Partying has saved my life many times and I imagine will continue to save my life over and over again. Maybe partying can save someone else’s life, too. Or at least make their life partier.”

Now 15 years after his landmark I Get Wet established him as the philosopher king of high-concept, lowbrow arena rock, W.K. is approaching the next phase of his career with a newfound sense of seriousness. The trademark white shirt and jeans remain, but his party-til’-you-puke aesthetic has evolved into a life philosophy that seems to draw from the positive thinking power of Norman Vincent Peale and self-actualization theories of Carl Rogers. The Party Party will not appear on any ballots this November, but as W.K. spreads his message on a 50-date, 50-state speaking tour, he looks to create something that will continue well after the votes are counted. Here he discusses his goals for the Party Party, how it’s different than other political movements, and why it’s important to keep partying even as the world around you seems to be falling apart.

Matt Fink (Under the Radar): So what is the current status of the Party Party?

Andrew W.K.: It’s partying right along. Thanks to the incredibly enthusiastic response to my initial Party Party announcement and the mindset behind it, we have a chance to take this on the road and bring it to people in person. The Party Party is a continuation of the same focus I’ve had for the last 20 years. It’s the same mindset I’ve been promoting since I began working as Andrew W.K., but this concept of a “Party Party” is a new delivery mechanism. Just like music is one way to get the party spirit conjured up in someone’s soul, the idea of The Party Party is a sort of informal yet official organization, like a club that exists in your heart and mindthis is just another mechanism to be used for generating an energetic enthusiasm about being alive. In fact, this interview we’re doing right now is another mechanism. Even I myself, as a person, am just another mechanismit’s all a means to an end. And I hope that the end is a feeling of raw divine joy and pure human power. That’s the ultimate goalto unleash ourselves unto ourselves and put that enthusiasm out into the world. With The Party Party, I’ve simply taken these same ideas and concepts and presented them in a slightly different wayhopefully this will make them even more accessible to people, and perhaps accessible to some people who weren’t connecting with my other efforts.

I’ve never done a nationwide pep-rally speaking tour beforecampaigning for the spirit of partying, but I have done one-off speaking engagements for the last 10 years. The first lecture I ever participated in was in 2006, and I’ve learned a lot and unlearned a lot since then. This will be the beginning of a new chapter in that regard.

So does The Party Party platform differ from the other speaking engagements you’ve been doing over the years?

My theme has always been partying. I’ve always tried to make it consistent and direct in that way, but the world of partying is large enough to allow a person to explore and celebrate nearly every aspect of life. In a rather surprising way, it’s a small and simple word“party”that somehow has enough room for huge complexities. That type of paradoxical undertone comes up a lot with partying and with existence in general. I think it’s important; paradoxes seem to be hinting at some sort of fundamental aspect of nature that’s otherwise very difficult to graspa sort of impossible possibilityand paradoxes and things that don’t make sense, yet that make perfect sense, allow us to feel that state of “inbetweenness” from which a lot of the world seems to emerge. Plus, partying is a lot of fun.

In this way, partying for me is both an answer and a question. I’ve always been looking and searching for a way to get deeper into what’s really going onespecially with the very basic aspects of living life and how it feels. I think many people also seem to be looking for some kind of answer, some kind of release, or a new perspective, or even just a new question, or a new way to ask the eternal question“why?” Engaging in the search for the meaning of things can act as a recharging of our inner strength, even if we don’t find the answersagain, that seems sort of counterintuitive, but the spirit works in ways that often defy material logic. My ideal hope is that we can collectively encourage a sort of renewed optimism and energy about the times we’re in right now. So that we have the strength to do something about the world. The problems. The situations at hand. If having an organization about partying together and celebrating our existencewhich is what the Party Party hopes to becan provide any sort of motivation or uplift, than maybe we really will be able to rise up and meet the challenges we face individually and collectively with more determination and strength.

Will the Party Party be taking specific stances on things like healthcare and education, real nitty gritty policies?

I focus on my specialties, which is celebrating an overriding and underlying shared humanity-the one thing we all have in common. That has to come first, at least with partying. I’m not looking to promote my particular opinions. I’m trying to give myself and everyone else a foundation of energized enthusiasm that lies beneath the opinions and stances and sides. A type of inner clarity that lets us think for ourselves and then apply that energy to whatever particular issues we’re invested in. A lot of the existing traditional political networks already have these areas covered so well, depending on how you look at them and what you’re looking for. There are people who have devoted their lives to almost every specific field. However, I didn’t see as much devotion to the field of partying. So that’s where I come in. It’s the only thing I have any business talking about. I feel like it’s the best use of my personal voiceif in some small way I can contribute to keeping us excited about life and it’s mysteries and challenges, then I will feel like my life hasn’t been a waste. Because what’s the point of all of the other work that we want to doall of the issues that we do want to fixif we’re not fixing them for the sake of the pure joy of life? And to think that you can still appreciate and love life even in the face of all of all our challengesI think that’s a very crucial thing to hold on to. That’s the difference between joy and happiness. Happiness is the result of a specific and often fleeting reason. Whereas joy can be felt for no reason in particular, other than having this chance to existin all its beauty and madness. A joy that transcends reason. This phenomenon of pure joy lies at the heart of the human spirit. It’s hard to fathom these sorts of things, but in another way, we understand them inherently. I’m confounded by that perpetually.

We see so much division in this country right now. The fact that we see so much support for Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump seems to point to the fact that there’s a lot of anxiety and fear in the culture right now. How will the Party Party address those feelings of helplessness?

Helplessness is a natural feeling and should be embraced at times. Sometimes we don’t like to think how helpless we really are when it comes to the vast and uncontrollable infinity that surrounds us. That real deep sort of fear is usually just the basic fear of the unknownthe fear of deathbut even death is sort of just a stand-in for the pure unknowable parts of existence. We want to know everything, and as it has been said, deep down we know that the only thing we can know is that we know nothing. It’s another paradox, and one that causes a lot of anxiety. We ultimately would like to develop the humility and strength to accept this anxiety about the unknown, and not let it torment us into trying to place blame for our anxiety on so many other areas of life that are not the real cause. Life is going to be hard always. The point isn’t to cancel out or numb that hardness, but to use it to become more than we were. We can use all these “bad” feelings for some sort of goodwe can turn lead into gold. Pain isn’t always a sign that something is wrong. Pain can also be a sign of growth. Pain can be a sign of expanding past yourself or your previous limits. Pain isn’t always a warning sign that we need to stop. For exampleand I realize this can seem like a stretch in terms of an analogybut if we take our body for instance, and notice how it’s this shape, this sort of substance, that rides the line between the inner and outer, our body is this vehicle that allows us to experience both “sides” of life. And when it comes to pain, we can see incredible examples of pain being part of life’s greatest moments. When a woman gives birth to a child, it’s probably as painful an experience as most people will ever have. But most people will also say that giving birth to a child is the greatest physical act any human could ever doto literally give rise to a new lifeand yet, it’s also extraordinarily painful. So you think, “Why wouldn’t it just be very pain-free? Why wouldn’t such a glorious powerthis power to give birth-not just be easy and breezy?” But for some reason it’s not. There is some hint at truth in this dualitythe pain and the beauty. It’s something to ponder deeply and endlessly.

Again, why when you’re exercising, and you run a long way or really push yourself physicallywhy does it hurt? I don’t exercise as hardcore as a professional athlete, but still whenever I do push myself physicallyeven on stage when I’m performing musicevery part of my body, even my brain, tells me to stop. “This is hurting. This isn’t good. It’s painful. I shouldn’t do it.” But, of course, we all understand that most physical exertion and pushing past that type of pain is really good for us and actually makes us stronger and better both inside and out. But why does it hurt? There must be something going on there. Growth hurts. Pain is growth.

We all have gone through our own versions of hard times and painful experiences. They may have been painful in a heartbreaking way. They may have been painful in terms of obstacles we couldn’t see a way around. They may have been the pains of frustrations, injustice, injury. But somehow we got through themwhat other choice did we have? And it’s wasn’t the pain itself made us a bigger, stronger person, it was what we developed in order to make it through the pain that made us stronger. We grew. In order to really live and grow we have to go through pain. Maybe life isn’t supposed to be completely free of pain? Just like birth and death?

It doesn’t mean we can’t do things to reduce the amount of suffering. But even if every current problem we face on a global level was somehow eliminated, most of us would still face the pain of existence internally and it would challenge us to grow regardless. That’s why even the most wealthy and materially successful people often are just as troubled if not more than those that appear to have less. Most of us have so much work to do just on that internal level of integrity, trying to develop virtues, that it’s a lifelong challenge. Some would argue that the external problems that we’re seeing are just manifestations of our own failings inside. We can see that greed is an extreme example of inner weakness, and look at what havoc that can wreck on a global scale. We can see that when someone is knowingly doing the wrong thing, resigning themselves to a lower standard of goodness in order to “get something,” this is weakness, and it causes damage. And I’m aware of this from my own personal struggles.

Every day for me has been a battle between an impulse to do wrong and desire to do right, coupled with intense confusion and doubt about nearly everything. But beneath all the weakness is a desire to be better, and a constant focus on outgrowing my own weakness. Maybe I never will. I think I was someone who was basically born a not very good personsomeone with a very sinister side, but who has an extreme desire to overcome these aspects. That’s how I got into partying, because the only way I could find the energy to become a better person was to see the lightto feel that pure joy. It gave me hope and a sense that there is a reason for life. There is a reason to make it through these bad feelings. But if it wasn’t for that darkness inside me, I don’t think I would’ve ever been motivated to overcome it. Again, another strange paradox. A shadow can’t be cast without light. And the light wouldn’t shine so bright unless it has darkness to shine out from.

With all this being said, I’m very skeptical of all of itespecially my own inclination to find the answer to it all. Partying is not the answer, and that’s why it is a great answer. Some might say that there’s no way everyone will ever be at their best, but as far as something that each one of us can reach towards right now, it’s something we can each do immediately that doesn’t take any extraneous outside maneuvering. It doesn’t require going to any extraordinary lengths in any formal institutionalized way. It’s something that we can do immediately, starting inside with our own thoughts. Can you not think bad thoughts? Just try it. Then, if you do go to the next level and take part in any other efforts, those efforts will automatically be improved, because you’ve already come from a state in which you’ve improved inside yourself. But even if you devote your whole life to just trying to make it through one day without thinking any low, cruel, selfish, or unsavory thoughts, that is still a noble effort and one worthy of a human being. I sometimes think the definition of a good person is a just a regular person trying desperately to become a better person. I don’t know if anyone can ever “be” anything. But we can all be in the process of “becoming.” So why not try becoming something better?

I can also understand why some people would say this is naïve or that they’ve heard this a million times and “Yeah, yeah. Love saves everything, and you just have to be positive.” But what else is there? At least as a starting point, is that not the best frame of mind? Even if we have the right and the justification to not feel that good, isn’t there a transcendent inner quality that the best people have always had, the people who have made these kinds of changes, either in their own lives or on a really large, even global, scale? The people we’ve looked to through the ages, that have risen to a higher level, and did it themselves, from the inside out, often with nothing other than themselves to work with and in often in during dire circumstances. How were they able to do these things? They worked at it. And they kept working. And they didn’t expect to get anything from it beyond the act of doing it. It’s its own reward. I think we each have the ability to do that. To some degree, there is no one among us who cannot at least try to become better. And that’s something that’s very satisfying, because you can work at it every day. I feel it every day as I’m working on it, and it’s something that only I’m responsible for. No one can do it for me. No matter where I am, no matter what else I’m dealing with, no matter who is elected president, no one can do that work for me and no one can stop me from doing it. No one can make that change for me. No one can solve all of the problems I’m going through inside myself better than I can. And that’s not to say it’s just a matter of “Well, if you just do the hard work and pull yourself up…” I’m not talking about material work; I’m talking about inner work. And often, as we’ve seen for better or worse, the people who are the most advanced in what you might call an inner way are the people who have been through the most suffering. Because they had to develop that power. It was an emergency. They are a type of real hero.

It sounds like what you’re calling for is a transformation of how people view themselves.

Transformation is inevitable. As far as what type of transformation, that is the question. I’d like to think that most people already know that we can all do better. We can each do better. This concept is not something that anyone has invented and it’s not about taking credit or placing blame. Trying to overcome yourself is not as emotionally thrilling as many other messages. It’s not as dramatic as many other messages. It’s also probably harder than anything else we could ever do. But it’s the only message that makes sense at all times. To me, at least.

Would you say that adopting a lifestyle of partying is easy?

Yes and no. It’s easy and it’s also incredibly hard. But it’s hard in a good way. Like learning to read is hard. Or learning to play an instrument is hard. It unlocks an endless world of riches: riches for the soul and the heart and the spirit. All you have to do is celebrate that you’re not dead. Granted, there are times when that can feel nearly impossible. It can even feel shameful. It requires seeing everything, hearing everything, trying to think about everything and know very little. It requires lots of searching and very little finding, if any. That’s tiring. There’s very little rest involved. It requires a rigorous and disciplined approach to a very scattered, puzzling, and strange world that fights back at every attempt to understand and contain it. You have to trick yourself into seeing that there is something inherently positive in all of lifeand once the trick works, you realize it wasn’t a trick at all. It defies logic and common sense, but at the same time, it seems to be the basic foundation on which all other sense is laid. It is the common ground upon which everything else is constructed. You have to “topple reason” from its dominating perch above all thoughts and understandings, and that is nearly impossible. And dangerous. But in a good way. Like any great risk in life. It’s being able to take an astronaut’s perspective of the world, where they look down at the planet and see the beauty of it and how we’re all part of one phenomenon. Yet, rather than being so far away and elevated that you don’t notice all the hardship, you somehow feel it deeper. You somehow understand it more wholly. Most of the time I’m personally lost and bewildered, but I feel at home in this place of confusion. It feels like a closer approximation of how the world might really be.

Anyway, I’m really just a representativejust one person promoting a feeling of excitement and funon a personal mission and trying to amplify the principle that life really is an experience that transcends good or bad. It’s better than good and better than bad. It goes beyond any sort of goodness or badness we can describe. That’s what partying isrealizing that getting caught up in all these riddles of life is a way of worshiping being alivea way of celebrating ita way of sublimating itand a way of getting farther away and closer to it at the same time. I want to make people feel excited about life and believe that they can do anythingor better yet, do what they were born to do.

I always go back to this memory of when I was in high school and went to a party where everyone was dancing. There were different contingents of people who were into sports and people who were into art, people who were into math, and people who were into who knows what, but everyone was partying together. There was a sense that just for this moment everyone could be together, sharing the same experience. And that we can celebrate that. And that is always our situationwe’re always in this together, whether we like or not. So we might as well make the best of itwe have to. And with this feeling fresh in our hearts, maybe we’ll be able to grapple with the challenges in front of us more effectively. That’s what I want to emphasize. It’s hard to save the world when you’re in a bad mood and fighting with everyone.

So what should people do if they want to contribute to your movement?

Just try to be the best person you can possibly be. Listen to your inner instinct. Think about everything. Listen to everyone. Try to let each person do their own thing and find out what you’re born to do. Try to live life with a senseless joy, an irrational joy. And realize that even pain and suffering and fear and anxiety can be part of that joy tooin a way that makes no sense, and in a way that makes perfect sense. True joy contains all other feelings. It’s feeling everything at onceone overwhelming sensation. There are other people we see around us who have that joy, and you can recognize them when you see them. I’ve met some people like that; I even have a few family members like that. I really admire them and wish I could be more like them. That’s what I’m trying to do. And that counts as partying.


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August 30th 2018

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