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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

Atonement involves recognizing my “Dark Necessities”

Yom Kippur offers me the opportunity to reflect as I bare my soul in the hope of bettering myself.

I’m not only to talk a whole lot about my faith, because I don’t want to tell like I’m pressing it onto people. I’m going to talk about it in today’s post, though, because if provides the context with which I made my selection.

Of all the responsibilities of Judaism, I consider the observance of Yom Kippur the most important. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is a time for solemn reflection, confession, and repentance not only toward God, but to also the people we have wronged. These actions and principles reach far beyond the synagogue and into daily life. While they are a moral thing to do every day, and I try to remember to do so, having an entire day centered around the themes makes following through with them imperative.

In thinking about the ways I have gone astray and continue to go astray, I keep circling back to the harm I’ve done to myself, both physically and mentally. For at leas the past decade, my peaks in frustration manifest as bouts of self-harm, typically punching myself or banging my head. I know that self-harm isn’t beneficial, but I can never control myself enough to fully stop. I thought I finally had things under control last fall, but I began to hurt myself again in late winter. Every year during the High Holy Days (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), I commit myself anew to stopping my cycle of self-inflicted pain, and every year I end up falling short.

While I currently am in a decent stretch of avoiding self-harm since I moved back to Berkeley, I know deep down that my desire to take out my frustration in that way will never leave me. I have no idea how it started, but it’s a part of me now, and I can’t quite accept that. In trying to find a song that touched on that sort of theme, I went through some really depressing ones that just didn’t make me motivated to write. Thankfully, I remembered how I connected with the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ "Dark Necessities" in the past, and I decided to make that today’s Senior Year Soundtrack selection. The lead single from RHCP’s eleventh album, The Getaway (2016), I hear the song as an ode to living with the bad parts of myself that have likely become permanent.

"Dark Necessities" is to me the band’s most somber release since “Otherside,” a feeling that comes instantly as the track opens with just Flea outlining the chorus progression on his bass. Flea then joins his bass playing on the piano with a repeated four-note minor scale climb, and the under-appreciated Josh Klinghoffer’s simple guitar line covers a bit more of that scale. Chad Smith’s drum line gives the track a bit of bounce, but not too much as the hushed intro continues. It finally crescendoes right before Flea’s slap-centered bass line for the verses makes the sound unmistakably RHCP. In fact, I hear a good bit of "Can’t Stop" in that bass line because of where the octave leaps occur. Even with the slapping, though, the track remains somber in the verses thanks to Flea’s piano chords, a sound which came to define The Getaway. The mood is also assisted by the feeling of space and loneliness provided by the claps on the second beat of each measure.

Anthony Kiedis’ vocals then enter, and while much of his lyrics allude to his personal battles with cocaine and heroin, many of the lines are also vague enough to allow people to read their own battles into them. Kiedis’ lyrics introduce a deeper sense of loneliness: the loneliness of a man reasoning with himself and his inner demons. His opening lines evoke the difficulties of hiding one’s pain and personal issues from the outside world: "Comin' out to the light of day, we got / Many moons that are deep at play so I / Keep an eye on the shadow smile to see what it has to say." I really connect with this opening; although I’ve often tried to put on a façade of being okay, my friends have often been able to see through that, and I’m so grateful they have. The subsequent conversations have repeatedly helped me by being able to talk things out with people I care about and who care about me.

Yet these conversations, as great as they are, can’t fix it all. Even though we tell ourselves that "everything must go away," our ingrained harmful behaviors are here to stay, and other people can’t fully understand us no matter how much we tell them. That right there is the first part of the chorus: "You don’t know my mind / You don’t know my kind / Dark necessities are part of my design." The other unique line in the chorus — "Tell the world that I’m falling from the sky" — implies a sort of ‘coming down’ from the effects of said "dark necessities," whether it be coming down from the high from drugs or being cast down to the earth from a heavenly state for one’s sins. As for me personally, my aforementioned self-harm is my foremost "dark necessity," and try as I might, I can't rid myself of it, but I acknowledge that and keep working toward mitigating that part of me. All the same, I wonder if I'm already too late for redemption, considering the extremes to which I've taken things.

I really connect to "Dark Necessities" on Yom Kippur because of its confession-like nature. It opens with an acknowledgment of shortcomings, and continues to express how difficult it is to change behaviors which have become so ingrained in our minds. I find this confession to be the most meaningful kind, because it involves a long-term commitment to improving ourselves, and it remains realistic in recognizing how we can't ever completely divorce ourselves from sin. In its bridge, "Dark Necessities" also recognizes the growth made possible and encouraged my our misgivings: "Darkness helps us all to shine." In knowing we have made mistakes, we are compelled to learn from them, to understand why we acted like that and how to ideally avoid doing so again. This learning is an extension of our confessing, as we make a confession sincere by acting upon it.

I focused a lot in this piece on how Yom Kippur calls me to action, but said action does not exist in a religious vacuum — the principles I've laid out are universal. It's important that we all can realize the ways in which we've been wrong, and how we can begin to right ourselves. Quoth Alexander Pope, "To err is human; to forgive, divine." "Dark Necessities" tackles the former, and as I sing along in my confession, I hope that I can act in a way that breeds forgiveness, however it may come to me. I hope the same for all of you as well.


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