Dayvan Cowboy is a track and the first music video by eons-old experimental electronica duo Boards of Canada. It features Joseph Kittinger parachuting from what's essentially outer space – the apogee of Project Excelsior and the stuff of legend. I don't know if I can make justice to it, but I've waited long enough for the collective intelligence of E2 to rise and make a writeup about it appear. So I must – like a Dayvan Cowboy.
The song begins by having slightly fuzzy, heavily processed guitars with spacey reverb and echo effects that essentially produce a riff in your mind without a riff being there - possibly a different riff in each person's imagination. The Dayvan Cowboy jumps, and floats riveting down in a space commanded only by gravity, without air resistance, signifying at the same time pure freedom and the lack of freedom not to be free.
What moves a man to risk burning out like a meteorite when entering the atmosphere? It takes a Dayvan Cowboy to know: the itch, the unsurpassable adrenaline rush, the recurring, recursive personal mythologies calling. He must jump, and enters through blue atmosphere like a human meteor, yet alive. We see through his eyes as he spins, both going through the motions and experiencing pure freedom for his short season in zero gravity.
Inevitably, he enters through the blue atmosphere and the music changes. We see someone hang-gliding out of the sky, flying like a bird of prey, circling the ocean as the now simpler guitar riff poses a challenge, like a ringing question mark: can you be the Dayvan Cowboy? And before you finish pondering the question, we're now entering the sea.
Our hero's hang-gliding equipment is shed and he emerges with a surf board. There are hi-hats, and then sparse synths over the challenging guitars once again punctuating the notion of pure, inevitable freedom as the Dayvan Cowboy finishes his journey reacting to the see to the best of his ability – no rescue team, still just a man and the physical processes of air and water.
Dayvan Cowboy is not a piece about the Naviers-Stokes equation. I like to think it's about the forceful yet pure contact with the unmeasurable field of possibilities that we often try to ignore, but can't avoid. Unstructured space necessitates personality, atmosphere necessitates grace, surf necessitates stamina and technique: you must know how to walk over the water before you jump into it, and yet you can't breathe if you don't. And you do surf somehow, maybe through mediocrity and routine, maybe floating as a dead body from the beginning, having made a choice despite not wanting to make one, despite being pressed to the elements against your will.
I like to think about the Dayvan Cowboy as a pure hero, with no heroic deeds – just the imperative to "fulfill every minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run". I like to think about the Dayvan Cowboy as a condensed version of the human adventure, colonizing over increasingly structured space and yet coming across on top through sheer bravado and technique.
I wanted to be a Dayvan Cowboy, and it has inspired me many times to get through it all and strive for higher things, against all odds – and when I think about it, I am where I am against all odds, in spite of myself, even, as if being forced into contact with water forced me surf so I could still breathe, to be free in spite of everything. I was obsessed over the Dayvan Cowboy idea for a long period of time, and it's still the only idea or abstract concept that still inspires me to jump from outer space every morning and jump into that which will not forgive me if I don't prove myself stronger.
Existence through inevitability, grace through possibility, survival through unsurmountable obstacle – to walk on water, no matter how tired or devoid of hope, and make it to the glorious end. I've thrown myself on a skateboard down hills wishing to be the dayvan cowboy, only to realize I was alive when I shouldn't, and I still intended to remain alive in the face of all reason. I'm still kicking, depending only on the foolishness not to look ahead to make it through.
I think the only thing I'm sure about life is that I'm a dayvan cowboy. It's the thread that keeps me from total existential void, if only because I can't avoid it – if only because the very continuity of my existence depends on me dodging obstacles I don't even know I'm able to see soon enough steer through. And if I fail – when I fail – I'll have failed in toto, having tried with no holds barred, no safety pins, no exit clause. And it's the only way I know how to live – not through God, but through pure impossibility.