Parallel Lines #2: A Saviour In These Streets [Guest Post by Erin from Uncomplicatedly]

28 01 2009

Dear readers,

It’s my privilege to present to you a guest post from my friend, colleague, and fellow Heaps-member, Erin, aka Uncomplicatedly. Erin contacted me a couple of weeks ago to say that she had an idea for a post in the Parallel Lines series I started with this post on Modest Mouse and the Talking Heads. She asked if she could make a couple of guest posts. I liked the idea so much that I’ve decided to open this blog up to other contributors. Songs About Radios is now soliciting requests for guest posts. If you’re someone I know in person in some capacity, and you have something you want to say about music in a public forum, send me an email with your idea!

Anyway, without further ado, here’s Erin’s Parallel Lines post:

You can hide ‘neath your covers
And study your pain
Make crosses from your lovers
Throw roses in the rain
Waste your summer praying in vain
For a savior to rise from these streets
Well now I’m no hero
That’s understood
All the redemption I can offer, girl
Is beneath this dirty hood

—Bruce Springsteen, “Thunder Road” (Download) (Buy It)″

Bruce Springsteen - Born to RunLike many of Bruce’s songs, this one offers a glimpse of a renegade heaven. Bruce promises Mary that they can “trade in these wings on some wheels” and ride out tonight to “case the promised land,” as though salvation is something that can be stolen or negotiated for. In these lines, he’s disdainful of Mary’s equation of love with traditional piety; the mistake of “praying in vain / for a savior” is the mistake of “hiding,” of refusing to take responsibility for your own happiness. Bruce claims initially to not be a hero, but he is, ultimately, offering redemption– it’s just a different kind of redemption, one you go out and take rather than wait patiently for.

I’ve been looking for a savior in these dirty streets
Looking for a savior beneath these dirty sheets
I’ve been raising up my hands– drive another nail in
Got enough guilt to start my own religion

Why do we crucify ourselves
Everyday I crucify myself
Nothing I do is good enough for you
Crucify myself
Everyday I crucify myself
And my heart is sick of being in chains

—Tori Amos, “Crucify” (Download) (Buy It)″

Tori Amos - Little EarthquakesThe first two lines of this excerpt are so similar to Bruce’s song as to suggest direct influence– Mary “hides ‘neath her covers,” prays “for a savior to rise from these streets,” and is offered redemption that comes from “beneath this dirty hood.” In this song, Tori plays Mary’s part, perhaps in an effort to show us that it’s not as easy as Bruce says to just hop into some dude’s car and ride off to the promised land. Tori says elsewhere in the song that she’s got “a kick for a dog begging for love;” she rebuffs Bruce because “I’ve gotta have my suffering so that I can have my cross.” These lines are certainly ironized; she would love to be able to liberate her heart from its chains, but she can’t. In the context of Bruce’s song, her assertion that “nothing I do is good enough for you” becomes a revealing accusation. The way Bruce frames the problem, all Mary has to do is decide to be happy and decide to come with him– but Tori feels judged by him, judged because she can’t do those things.

The only crack in Bruce’s polished bad-boy seduction persona comes in these lines: “I know you been waitin’ for words that I ain’t spoken / But tonight we’ll be free; all the promises’ll be broken.” Here, he seems to acknowledge that he’s not offering Mary love, at least not with a capital L and a fairy-tale ending. A lot of seducers don’t hesitate to promise love falsely, but Bruce is nothing if not sincere. Tori may be right to be offended, but Bruce has correctly observed that the L-word has a dangerous power over Mary, who “makes crosses from her lovers”– she crucifies herself, and this is what Bruce wants to save her from.


Parallel Lines #1: They Say Animals Don’t Worry (Talking Heads “Animals” vs. Modest Mouse “Wild Packs of Family Dogs”)

5 01 2009

They say they don’t need money
They’re living on nuts and berries
They say animals don’t worry
You know animals are hairy?
They think they know what’s best
They’re making a fool of us
They ought to be more careful
They’re setting a bad example

—Talking Heads, “Animals” (Download) (Buy It)″

Talking Heads - Fear of MusicIt’s hard to tell where the irony stops on this song. All of the insults David Byrne hurls at animals sure seem to be compliments – they’re simple, undemanding, unsuspecting nature sure makes us look bad by comparison. But the insults feel so heartfelt – screw animals for setting such a bad example; wouldn’t it be nice if we could just go on consuming, without animals rubbing it in our faces? Wouldn’t it be great if we could keep consuming unselfconsciously, without really worrying about it…sort of like animals…

So Byrne’s frustration with animals in this song starts to look like frustration with his own inability to maintain the distinction between us and them. Except that, unlike animals, we’re still the kinds of creatures that get frustrated about things like maintaining distinctions.

A wild pack of family dogs came runnin’ through the yard one day
My father got his gun, shot it up, they ran away ok
A wild pack of family dogs came runnin’ through the yard
And as my own dog ran away with them, I didn’t say much of anything at all
A wild pack of family dogs came runnin’ through the yard
As my little sister played, the dogs took her away
And I guess she was eaten up ok, yeah she was eaten up ok
My mother’s cryin’ blood dust now
My dad he quit his job today, well I guess he was fired but that’s ok
And I’m sittin’ outside my mudlake, waiting for the pack to take me away
And right after I die the dogs start floating up towards the glowing sky
Now they’ll receive their rewards, now they will receive their rewards

—Modest Mouse, “Wild Packs of Family Dogs” (Download) (Buy It)″

Modest Mouse - The Moon & AntarcticaIf you didn’t speak English, you’d think this was a sweet lullaby. There’s a tinge of melancholy to the sing-song guitar part, but it’s all very calming, without the slightest hint of the violence or economic despair described by the lyrics. The singer sounds resigned, at peace with his fate. The dogs circle around the central images of the mudlake and the blood dust, images of a world dried up and cracked, waiting to be reclaimed by nature. The dogs are family dogs, which means first of all that they’re not wild by nature, but domesticated and returned to the wild, and second of all that the singer’s family’s dog isn’t the first dog that they’ve taken away with them. “Family dogs” also seems to make the pack sound familial, a sort of foil to the singer’s family, but no longer differentiated into distinct identities or rolls. As the family is broken down one piece at a time and reconstituted as an organic unit, the singer’s ambivalence is registered by his silence. His reluctance to react is the smallness of someone already without identity.