Archive for Close Reading

A Critical Look at Some Pornographers

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on September 26, 2009 by jganolik

The New Pornographers, that is. So if I had to pick a favorite band, these Canadian indie rockers would be my go-to guys. However, whenever I pause to seriously consider the meaning of their song lyrics, my reaction is something along the lines of, “What the heck?”

I mean, not all their lyrics are so nonsensical; It seems that “Challengers” speaks of two people who are attracted to one another, but who both have families to whom they’ve committed their lives. And “Go Places” is a love song with poignant lines such as, “yes a heart will always go one step too far,” which captures the nature of love, beautifully.

But then… then you’ve got songs like “Use It,” on their album, Twin Cinema, and that’s what this blog entry is going to focus on. Here’s a link to the lyrics, although I will reference them throughout the post. It’s a great song, with some awesome one liners, but what’s really going on? I’m going to try and decode this. Wish me luck.

In the beginning of the song, we are outside and it is night. A cat calls and “two chicks in the parking lot crack wise at the price of fame they stood to gain.” So I guess they want to be famous, and are making wisecracks about the height of its price? Let’s move on…

Then, “the phonebook’s been ripped off and two shapes in the dark across the way know the price of flight.” Umm… what?

I’d like to know what it means for a phonebook to be ripped off. Has someone been copying it? Was it sold for an expensive price? OR was it physically ripped off of some surface or ripped apart? And who are these two shapes? We might still be looking at the two chicks or maybe there are two more characters that have just entered the stage. Whoever they are, it seems that they are discussing the price of running away from something. But what are they running from? Is it still fame? And why are they running? What is the price? So many questions!

Here’s the next block of lyrics:

“If you’ve got something
That sheds some light
Use it tonight, tonight (chorus)
Heads down thumbs up (chorus)
Two sips from the cup of human kindness
And I’m shit faced, just laid to waste”

Hmm… maybe the narrator doesn’t know what’s going on either? If anyone’s listening, please shed some light on this night scene! We could still be talking about fame and flight here. And then a game of seven-up begins- that wacky game that kids sometimes play in elementary and middle school on substitute teacher days. It was fun, but why does it make an appearance in the song?

I love the last two lines; they seem to work really well as a stand alone quote. “Two sips from the cup of human kindness and I’m shit faced.” What a great image. One can only do so many good deeds before they get fed up, OR after doing only a small number of good deeds, it’s possible to become obsessed with your own kindness. “Just laid to waste” sounds like the said drinker has perhaps died after drinking from the cup. So maybe the cup of human kindness contains poison? I’m sure there are additional readings.

Skipping ahead a little bit:

“If you’ve got will and a little time
Use it tonight, tonight
You had to send a wrecking crew after me
I cant walk right”

This “wrecking crew” is mentioned many times, and it seems that the speaker is seeking death because… he or she can’t walk right. I mean I’m assuming they are referencing a group of people that knock down buildings? And so this brings forth a slew of further questions: why does not walking right demand death? And why a wrecking crew? It’s a cool (yet disturbing) image. Maybe “walking right” has a deeper meaning, and refers to the mishandling of some important life situation or a generally despicable manner of living?

Onto the last passage I’m going to examine, since the rest is just composed of random and repeated chorus lines:

“Phantom of the heart
Four beats from the parting lungs and mind
Since I was a child
Just grew there wild”

Not really sure where to begin. It seems that this person’s heart has disappeared, and only a phantom of it remains. The “parting lungs and mind” line goes along with the image of dying, with the assumption that the mind lives on after the body dies. Not sure what the child part of it is about, because wanting to die since childhood is a very grim image.

Anyway, the song, or scene fades to black with a repetition of “use it tonight,” and never fails to leave me baffled. Use what tonight? Why tonight? Maybe it’s supposed to be nonsensical. In any case, it’s a fun song. Give it a listen.