Tuesday, 14 October 2008
When You Were Young
This week the new Killers song “Human” has been blaring out of the radio: “Are we human or are we dancers?” Recently I have been enjoying their 2006 album, Sam’s Town, which I have been listening to in between things like Newton Faulkner, the Editors and Stuart Townsend. So why do I like the Killers and their signature noisy mix of pop and rock?
For one thing, I enjoy the strange and sing-able lyrics, which often, on a basic level, question some aspect of who we are as people, or lament the loss of something, be it a particular friend, companionship, our feelings, or even our senses (eg “For Reasons Unknown”). The aforementioned album is impressive, and I find Brandon Flowers’ voice and the reverberating guitars together tend to evoke the feeling you get when life is slightly out of control - when you are struggling, but still see hope; when you have that feeling that “the sun is beating down my neck” but you’re still going to “make it out” somehow (see “Bling (Confessions of a King)”).
It’s hard to tell how serious their lyrics should to be taken – for instance one cover track from the Sawdust album (“Shadowplay”) states that “In a room without a window in the corner I found truth” without really indicating what that truth is (relationship? Understanding of oneself? Is “truth” really to be understood as something one can only get at in enclosed spaces?) I’d guess that some of the songs are about playing with ideas, and there is no particular coherent way of understanding them.
Others however seem to make useful observations of the ambitions and hopes of the young in the West. The track “When You Were Young” seems particularly relevant in today’s climate where pursuing a relationship is, for some, the reason for living. It resonates with me partly because of its music video, which sketches out a love story for us. At first, a beautiful girl is shown waiting by a large wooden cross, and remembering in brief flashbacks the relationship we are about to see unfold in the rest of the video. We next see her as she was, praying earnestly in an old church – and according to the lyrics longing for “a beautiful boy/ to save you from your old ways”. When she emerges a man (in a cowboy hat) appears over the ridge and takes her by the hand, while Brandon sings “Watch him now, here he comes!” Their relationship quickly becomes one of passionate love and sex, but in the space of a few seconds of play-time, we watch her discover him in bed with another woman. Totally distraught, she leaves and is pictured walking the streets alone. The resolution however is telling: She appears to make the decision to return to him, despite the fact that Brandon and his band seem to sing the following words of the song right at her: “He doesn’t look a thing like Jesus – but he talks like a gentlemen, as you imagined when you were young”.
Not only does the song create the real uncertainties and hopes that accompany a new relationship (“Can we climb this mountain? I don’t know”), it also seemingly addresses us (the whole piece uses direct second-person pronouns), showing up a common desire in us and our generation for that “perfect” relationship. It is as if we are all waiting our whole lives for a person of our imagination to turn up. But the contrast of reality, as shown in the video, is that the one we long for, while appearing to be perfect, the “gentleman” of childhood dreams, turns out to be less than we hoped for; we are still not saved.
How is this resolved for us? Do we have to strike out on our own, cut off ties from others and assert ourselves on our own, or do we merely accept the partner who hurts us for who he or she is and lower our expectations? Or perhaps neither of these alternatives show the most helpful attitudes to relationships, which we tend to charge with holding more promise and security and hope for us than they actually do. I certainly know of one guy my age who keeps getting into passionate relationships in the hope that they will “sort out” his life in some indefinable way – he seems to revel in riding the rollercoaster of emotions that each problematic relationship brings; that’s what life is about for him.
Of course we would all hope for a relationship that brings mutual encouragement and support, and a high view of faithfulness would seem right. But it is unsurprising to find ourselves unsaved by a relationship from “old ways” that we wanted to leave behind. And life is about more than youthful dreams of love – we don’t want to be paralysed and unable to face the future, waiting passively to be saved by a loving relationship, and looking for perfection in imperfect beings.
The story behind the song definitely highlights the gap between fairy-tale thoughts and shocking reality. I think we need to be somewhere in between – hopeful realists. What do you think? Do you agree with my reading of the music video? And can you see people you know naively falling for the lie that life is all about waiting for perfection to come in the form of “the right one”?
Well, this is a somewhat unique post for me – hopefully this blog is big enough for reflective and challenging prose as well as attempts at poetry and other issues and books I’m interested in. Next: a hybrid review/analysis of the wickedly brilliant graphic novel V for Vendetta.
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