Of Life immense in passion, pulse, and power,
Cheerful, for freest action form’d under the laws divine,
The Modern Man I sing.– Walt Whitman, ‘One’s-Self I Sing’, Leaves of Grass.
In contrast to Whitman’s Modern Man – of life immense in passion, pulse, and power – Butler’s Modern Man is trapped in a moribund grind. Further, unlike the insight of the Kids, Butler’s Modern Man lacks comprehension – ‘in line for a number but you don’t understand’. In ‘Modern Man’ Butler sings of the Modern Man as not only unable to understand but through Kafkaesque waiting Modern Man wastes the time of the ‘chosen few’ and makes it that they ‘can’t sleep at night’.
In ‘Ready to Start’ Butler positions himself between the Modern Man – the businessmen – and the Kids, again it is the Kids that can see clearly: ‘If the businessmen drink my blood like the kids in art school said they would, then I guess I’ll just begin again.’ Butler’s personal reflection on his time in art school and naïve remedy ‘beginning again’ to the bloodlust of businessmen highlights Butler’s concern with the Kids and Modern Man tension, but also wider thematic of present-nostalgia.
‘Ready to Start’ and ‘City with No Children’ reveal that Butler occupies the space between the Kids and Modern Man. There is a strong hint that the ‘kids in art school’ were right when they prophesied that the businessmen would drink his blood. The line from ‘City with No Children’ – ‘never trust a millionaire quoting the sermon on the mount, I used to think I was not like them but I’m beginning to have my doubts’- introduces the question that perhaps Butler is fast becoming the Modern Man. No longer part of the Kids, Butler and perhaps a generation along with him, can see the reflection of Modern Man in the mirror. Rather than accept this reflection there is a turn toward the past to find the true self and attempt to map the point that turned ‘every good thing to rust’.