Andrew W.K. is the president of partying. The maestro of mirth. The answer to the question you didn’t know you asked. The bright-eyed tour guide to the worldwide upside. We got with him to talk about the power of joy, the future of humanity, and the little things we can do to make life a better experience. Read the full interview below and enjoy this specially curated Spotify playlist by Andrew himself that’s sure to turn the corners of your mouth in the upwards direction.
What kind of difference have you seen in people’s reaction to your “Power of Partying” tour before and after the presidential election?
It has been pretty consistent. I hadn’t really noticed much of a difference. Since we’re not discussing politics or current events so much, it’s not really that type of theme. The topics we’re discussing are sort of more perennial and more fundamental—more primal I suppose, just about life in general. I did notice there were a few places where some of the organizers thought it was inappropriate or perhaps disrespectful to be discussing positivity. And I guess I understood what they meant, but for the most part I think as people we’re always looking for ways to do our best and make the best of whatever situation we find ourselves individually or collectively. So, hopefully people are able to get something out of this, no matter how they feel otherwise.
Right, that’s quite interesting that you got that feedback.
Well, it reminds me a little bit of—although not nearly as dramatic, in my opinion—situations like this that I faced from time to time throughout the years, certainly after some events that people consider tragic or during struggles or adverse circumstances. People thought that things were too dire to focus on optimism. But fortunately, most people feel exactly the opposite way—that it’s during the great struggles or difficulties when we really need to call upon that inner strength to persevere and find that perhaps kind of irrational resilience—the optimism that will see us through.
That’s quite a beautiful thought. It’s cool that you feel that way and I’m glad that people are reacting the way they are. Along those lines—and this is pretty broad and open—what do you think it takes to create a movement?
Gosh, I really don’t know. Movement in general is that connection between an inner desire and a physical action. It’s that perfect marriage between the inner world and the outer world and taking the spirit and pushing it outside yourself. There’s also a sense that it involves more than the effort of one individual. Even if it begins with the effort of a single person, others relate to their efforts and get swept up in it, amplifying that same spirit by contributing their own energy and taking these less tangible thoughts or feelings and bringing them into some kind of physical manifestation. I really don’t know. For better or worse, I’m not particularly proud of this, but I’ve never really felt I’ve been part of a movement. I certainly haven’t been responsible for creating one. Maybe there’s sort of the longstanding movement of humanity. And I suppose that we’re all a part of that, whether we formally realize it or not.
And the contribution that you’re making to humanity through this tour and what we just discussed about promoting optimism in the face of dire circumstances and situations to me, in my mind is a movement. Is that far off do you think?
No, I mean that’s up to you. I appreciate that point of view. I haven’t thought of it that way. I guess I’d always thought a movement was something more organized or more formal. I mean, I didn’t make up this idea of joy. So, I guess in that way I hadn’t thought of it as something I could take credit for in that way or as something as formal as that. But there’s this certain feeling, this certain kind of basic fundamental energy that makes even the hardest times to have some sense of meaning to them. And I think that feeling is best described as joy. It’s a feeling that can be felt in all different kinds of settings. And that’s just what I felt like I’m meant to do. It’s not necessarily even what I like to do, it’s what I feel I have the best ability to serve—this joyful energy kind of life-force feeling. And try to amplify it and conjure it up whenever possible and spread it around and promote it. And that’s just my little, I guess a little contribution to the greater good, hopefully.
Which emotion do you consider to be the strongest driver of human behavior?
I think there are probably two sides of the same coin that are experienced differently. What I would traditionally think of as strong—as a kind of brute force or a kind of desperate power—would probably come from fear. Fear of death, fear of the unknown, fear of pain, fear of suffering, a kind of primal fear that can definitely will someone to go to great lengths to survive and persevere. On the flip side of that same coin would be a kind of faith, a reaction to the unknown by having some kind of acceptance and a kind of humbling smallness that is almost the inverse of that brute force. A kind of gentleness, a kind of caring motherly love for everyone and everything. And it’s probably the flip side of the same coin where in one sense, it feels perfectly correct to hate your enemy and to want to squash them. And then the other side of that same interaction or relationship is to love your enemy and want to hug them. They’re both equally powerful. It’s just that one of those will lead to destruction and one of them will lead to continuation, I guess, progress.
You would say that fear is ultimately going to lead to destruction?
It seems like that if you look throughout history. I guess it’s the constant battle between “might is right” versus “right is might.” There’s a side of mankind that thinks that strength, and force, and power, and violence is the best mechanism to achieve domination over the world and that the strongest will survive and deserve to. And then there’s another that says doing the right thing is the most noble and the truest strength and that kind of all-encompassing love is actually a stronger and more powerful and more righteous kind of force. This is the battle between these two inclinations and so far, we haven’t really been able to adhere to one or the other so they’ve been kind of battling each other in a weird way. But since “right is might” is a more gentle perspective it usually falls to “might is right.” But eventually, hopefully, people will realize that just because we have this strength and this power doesn’t mean we need to use it. And we can kind of move from this adolescence of civilization into something more mature and more gentle.
Do you see any positive trends in human culture at the present time?
Yes! I think of primarily positive trends and incredible progress looking back at the last several thousand years. One of the big mistakes is to focus on problem areas with such intensity that they overshadow all the other great things that are going on. All the other great achievements that we should look to as real signs of proof to give us hope and to see how far we’ve come. Not to be ignorant to the problems that we still are in the midst of, but I think there is a bit of a conspiracy to suck out all our energy by tricking us into believing that everything sucks. It’s very hard to save the world if you feel like it’s not even possible to save, or worth saving, because it’s a big heap of garbage. We have to believe that it still is a beautiful place full of possibility and that hope isn’t a kind of passive, naive, delusion. That hope is a real active belief in our potential. The potential on a very individual level should be where we start, because that is something we can picture and imagine and is within our immediate grasp. If we can imagine getting through the next ten minutes in a peaceful loving way, that should give us hope that we could get maybe through the entire day in a peaceful loving way. And if we can do it, maybe someone else can. And that’s how we can build. But if we believe that everything just sucks, and everything’s a big pile of shit, then it’s very hard to muster up the outlook that would even encourage us to make these efforts.
Is it possible to be an ideal person or to create an ideal society?
I think idealism is the carrot that we dangle in front of ourselves to have us reach for more than we have reason to reach for. We have to exceed ourselves. That’s how we grow. If we settle for what we’ve already done, then we’ll get what we’ve already experienced. So we have to have things that challenge us, that stretch our imagination so that we can strive to be more. If we have no reason to push past what we’ve already done, then we won’t grow. And I think most of our problems are problems that we simply have to outgrow. It’s not even so much about solving them, it’s about moving past them, so idealism to me is key. It’s quite discouraging when people think that a more pragmatic and cynical point of view is more intellectually sound just because it seems more reasonable or attainable. Of course it’s attainable, it’s what we’ve already done. If we want more of the same, then yeah, don’t bother picturing something better, but if we really want to strive for more—again this is something that we can take down to the individual level on a day to day basis. You’re trying to run a marathon and that can seem quite daunting. But that’s what can motivate someone to train and push themselves, and go into that uncomfortable state of transforming oneself and developing these new abilities. But, that’s why we have imagination. That’s why we have this creative ability that mother nature has given us to picture something more, something better. Even if some kind of utopian state is impossible, I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t strive for it. Believing that war is inevitable will surely guarantee more war. The belief that we are capable of goodness will at least help us increase goodness. Even if it’s just by one degree, isn’t that better than nothing? I believe that we can all party together. That is my hope for humanity—that we all celebrate this chance to exist together. And for those that scoff at that idea and roll their eyes, it actually just makes me feel even a deeper need to promote these possibilities, because if we scoff at the idea of positivity, if we scoff at the idea of peace, then we really are in trouble.
I feel like you’ve answered this in some ways, but if it were up to you, how would society be different in 50 years?
I guess it is up to me in a very small way. I’m one 7 billionth of the population. I would like to be more patient. I would like to be more kind. I would like to shorten the emotional distance between my initial reactions and thoughts and my highest potential points of view and try to really follow my conscience without any fear and have the courage to really be the best I can be. And then in a very beautiful way that is the only work that each of us can do. There’s a lot of emotional satisfaction in putting our energy into trying to change other people and make them better, but most of the time it just causes more fighting for some reason. If we could just put that energy into really examining ourselves in a brutally honest way and seeing where we could improve—that precious vital energy is usually most efficiently dedicated to our own improvement. Not improvement to be better than someone else or to get more than someone else as a result of the improvement, but to develop those virtues and use this sort of day-to-day existence as a proving ground, as a series of tests and challenges that are not there to irritate us or hurt us, but to challenge us to transform into something more noble and more worthy of this life that we were given—to not stoop down and engage in behavior that is not worthy of a human being. But I’m a long ways off myself. That’s where the power of partying comes in, because we can make this pursuit something enjoyable rather than feel like a really grueling task. It takes vigorous effort, but it’s the rejoicing and having the chance to exist at all. And the greatest respect we can show to this existence is to use it for all its worth, for the goodness of everybody. And we know that nothing is more satisfying or fulfilling than contributing to this common cause. And really feeling that sense that we are all in this together, that these people around us are us.
Thank you for your thoughtful answers.
Thank you for your powerful questions.
“A recipe is a story that ends with a good meal.” — Pat Conroy