Saturday, February 25, 2012

Jezebel / Few and Far Between / A Campfire Song

Jezebel (from the 10,000 Maniacs album Our Time in Eden)

to think of my task is chilling
to know I was carefully building the mask I was wearing
for two years, swearing I'd tear it off

I've sat in the dark explaining to myself
that I'm straining too hard
for feelings I ought to find easily
called myself Jezebel
I don't believe

before I say that the vows we've made
weigh like a stone in my heart
family is family, don't let this tear us apart

you lie there, an innocent baby
I feel like the thief who is raiding your home
entering and breaking and taking in every room

I know your feelings are tender
inside you the embers still glow
but I'm a shadow, I'm only a bed of blackened coal
call myself Jezebel for wanting to leave

I'm not saying I'm replacing love for some other word
to describe the sacred tie that bound me to you
I'm just saying we've mistaken one for thousands of words
and for that mistake
I've caused you such pain
that I damn that word!

I've no more ways to hide
that I'm a desolate and hollow place inside

I'm not saying I'm replacing love for some other word
to describe the sacred tie that bound me to you
I'm not saying love's a plaything
no, it's a powerful word
inspired by strong desire to bind myself to you

how I wish that we never had tried
to be man and his wife
to weave our lives into a blindfold
over both our eyes


Few and Far Between (from the 10,000 Maniacs album Our Time in Eden)

times are far between, and few I bet
we can look upon our lives without regret

of all the things I have done
you think I'm proud of every one without exception?

'til you make your peace with yesterday
you'll never build a future
I swear by what I say

whatever penance you'll do
decide what it's worth to you
and then respect it
however long it will take
to weather your mistakes
why not accept it?

my hands, for now, are tied
I'm a body frozen
I'm a will that's paralyzed

when will you ever set aside
your pain and misery?
no matter how I beg
no matter how I wish or plead

you'll never be more than alive
you'll never do more than survive
until you expect it
do you want to build a world with our lives?
you better soon decide
or you can forget it.

my hands, for now, are tied
I'm a body frozen
I'm a will that's paralyzed
'til you drop that heavy baggage
you're dragging behind
there won't be room for us
to both go this ride


A Campfire Song (from the 10,000 Maniacs album In My Tribe)

A lie to say, "o, my mountain has coal veins and beds to dig
500 men with axes and they all dig for me"

A lie to say, "o, my river where many fish do swim
half of the catch is mine when you haul your nets in"

Never will he believe that his greed is a blinding ray
no devil or redeemer will cheat him
he'll take his gold to where he's lying cold

A lie to say, "o, my mine gave a diamond as big as a fist"
but with every gem in his pocket, the jewels he has missed

A lie to say, "o, my garden is growing taller by the day"
he only eats the best and tosses the rest away

Never will he be believe that his greed is a blinding ray
no devil or redeemer can cheat him
he'll take his gold to where he's lying cold
six deep in the grave

Something is out of reach
something he wanted
something is out of reach
he's being taunted
something is out of reach
that he can't beg or steal nor can he buy

His oldest pain
and fear in life
there'll not be time
his oldest pain
and fear in life
there'll not be time

A lie to say "o, my forest has trees that block the sun
and when I cut them down I don't answer to anyone"
no, no, never will he believe that his greed is a blinding ray
no devil or redeemer can cheat him
he'll take his gold where he's lying cold
six deep in the grave

Recently, I've been asking all the music lovers in my life this question: What emotion in lyrics, other than romantic love, moves you the most? I love questions like this because the answers reveal a lot about the person replying. And it's fun to compare notes. Here is just a sampling of the answers I've gotten to this question over the last several days: loss, despair, belonging, guilt, longing. The list goes on and on.

It's no surprise that pain is at the heart of so many of the emotions that move people in music. There's some sort of catharsis involved in listening to a beautiful voice eloquently wrapping our thoughts and experiences into a song. Even when music makes us sad, it makes us happy. Maybe we feel it's a sadness that's worthwhile because it's beautiful and shared with someone else.

The emotion in lyrics that moves me most is regret. Perhaps it's because regret is my constant companion. Every night when I go to bed I almost unconsciously begin thinking about all of the things that I wish I would have done differently that day, down to the most ridiculously tiny details. You know when people say, "I rue the day that..." That's me pretty much every day. I rue an awful lot.

If this description of my personality has given you the impression that I'm an extremely annoying person, then good! I've accurately described myself to you. My addiction to regretfulness drives the people in my life crazy. I know I can be really exasperating. This too I regret. Vicious cycle, you see?

Daily disappointments are minor, though. The things that eat away at me are the realizations that I've failed people I care about. And this is why song lyrics dealing with regret touch me so deeply. It's one thing to regret making mistakes that you alone are now reaping unpleasant consequences from. It's entirely another thing to regret the way you've treated (or not treated) someone when there is little you can do now to fix it and they are stuck dealing with the consequences.

And this brings us to our first song this week - Jezebel. I've always had mixed feelings about this song. On the one hand, it is undeniably beautiful musically and gut-wrenching lyrically. Guilt and regret are closely related, maybe synonymous, and the guilt that the character singing this song expresses is painful to listen to. When she sings, "You lie there, an innocent baby, I feel like the thief who is raiding your home, entering and breaking and taking in every room," it makes me cringe. I have never been in the exact situation described in this song, but it doesn't matter. Natalie's lyrics so completely transport me into this character's head that I feel the full weight of her feelings. I can imagine feeling the way she feels if I was in similar circumstances and it makes me incredibly uneasy.

When I say my feelings are mixed about the song, it's only because of the fact that I think that Jezebel's lyrics are intended to make me feel sympathy primarily for the person singing the song. But I feel far more sympathy for the nameless and largely undescribed person she is singing to. When I think about the pain she is considering inflicting on him, I feel a sense of rage. While I don't know much about him, I do know this: "I know your feelings are tender, inside you the embers still glow." I want to protect him somehow; he does seem like just an innocent baby. I don't think this reaction I have is really the intention of the song, but it's how I hear it.

Here's a quote from Natalie about Jezebel:

"Anyone who's either witnessed or been involved in a divorce knows. My parents divorced when I was nine. This song is a dialogue between two people that begins as a confrontation, and it comes to a conclusion about the word 'love.' In a mystical sense, in a marriage, it's such a powerful word, and it's used as bondage."*

It seems weird to jump from a song like Jezebel to Few and Far Between, which is quite the peppy, upbeat "Don't Worry, Be Happy" take on regret. The message of the song is pretty simple, "Let it go. Quit living in the past. Don't dwell on your regrets." To which I say, "How dare you!"

Few and Far Between doesn't move me. At all. There's just something that doesn't work for me with this song. 10,000 Maniacs frequently paired music with lyrics that didn't entirely match in tone, and usually succeeded in making a song that somehow sounded just right, all of the pieces coming together perfectly. But this song just doesn't work for me. I feel like if the music had been slower and a little more pensive, I might be inclined to like it more. That, or this is all just an elaborate defense to distract myself from acknowledging that the words to this song totally apply to me and that I am being thoroughly chastised by my favorite song writer. Dang.

And now for our last song...I can see how some people might be inclined to think of A Campfire Song as an attempt to villainize people involved in earth-damaging practices, reducing them to a stereotype. I don't think so, though. I think the portrait Natalie creates here is of a type of person who is frighteningly real - a person completely devoid of regrets.

That's the thing about regrets - they are necessary. There are people who seemingly have no ability to regret their decisions. Maybe it's because they never think about their past. Maybe it's because of a total lack of self-awareness. Maybe it's because they just don't care. That's what we are left to conclude about the person being described in A Campfire Song. "Never will he believe that his greed is a blinding ray." Well, that's a shame, isn't it? His refusal to accept any responsibility or feel any guilt for what's he doing means that he will continue to hurt and destroy. I would rather lay awake at night disturbed over my own errors than to sleep like a baby every night, completely at peace with my own tyranny.

That's all for me this week. Before I leave you, though, I have some exciting news to share: Natalie will be performing with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra on June 18th of this year...and I'm going! Whoo and hoo! I'm super pumped and I can't wait to share with you a special edition concert review post once the concert has happened. Yippee!

Watch the MTV Unplugged performance of Jezebel:

Download Jezebel (Live) from Itunes - Jezebel (Live) - MTV Unplugged: 10,000 Maniacs

Download Few and Far Between from Itunes - Few and Far Between - Our Time In Eden

Download A Campfire Song from Itunes - A Campfire Song - In My Tribe

*Details - December 1992