Thursday, April 21, 2011

Themes in Conor Oberst's lyrics (Part Two)

On Bright Eyes' latest album, The People's Key, Conor Oberst writes about the value of viewing life through a child's eyes. He devotes one whole song to this idea, "Beginner's Mind." He also touches on it in "Jejune Stars": "So it starts again / at our childhood's end / I'll die young at heart." He laments the loss of childhood and the fact that its perspective is gone or at least that it has to be reclaimed through a laborious process.

Inspired by a child's spontaneous take on life, he tells himself in "Beginner's Mind": "Swear you'll be the opposite / of all the stilted hypocrites / You know what made you infamous to them, don't you / you keep starting over." He wants to both understand his inner child and protect it: "Stay awhile my inner child / I'd like to learn your trick / to know what makes you tick / to nurse you when you're sick."

I agree with Conor that there is a purity of how we view the world as children. I wish we could stay children for longer ("Youth is wasted on the young"). How is it useful to regain a childlike perspective as adults? Could a wide-eyed approach be the best way to appreciate life? Or to put it another way, what do we get that is positive from becoming jaded? There is also the question of the essential self. In "One for You, One for Me," Conor writes, "We've come so far away from us." His desire to find and understand the purest part of himself is evident throughout the album.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Themes in Conor Oberst's lyrics (Part One)

I have been having an interesting time mining the field of Conor Oberst's lyrics. It is such rich territory that I thought I might even do a series of posts on the topic. Conor Oberst is one of those artists whom I want to thank for sharing himself with the world--he has that much to contribute. He is known for his highly personal lyrics, and as he said, wryly, "I like to feel the burn of the audience's eyes on me as I'm whispering all my darkest secrets into the microphone." He has been touted as a great songwriter by such high profile sources as Rolling Stone and celebrated author Jonathan Franzen, but he brushes off the accolades. I think he is someone who just wants to get at the truth, which I respect.

One common thread in his writing spans at least a couple of songs across Bright Eyes' albums--"Lover I Don't Have to Love" and "Take it Easy (Love Nothing)." The lyrics of "Lover I Don't Have to Love" are fascinating--it seems that he turns around from the sex, drugs, and rock and roll mentality to the realization of the emptiness therein all within a single song. He sings, "I need some meaning I can memorize / The kind I have always seems to slip my mind." He is looking for something meaningful; the other stuff is hollow.

In "Take it Easy (Love Nothing)," he claims that he will never let himself get hurt again: "Now I do as I please and lie through my teeth / Someone might get hurt, but it won't be me." But if he still feels the way he did when he wrote "Lover I Don't Have to Love," love is worth getting hurt: "Love's an excuse to get hurt / Do you like to hurt? / I do, I do / Then hurt me." Of course that can be read in a self-destructive sense, in line with the prior lyrics of the song, but I think that may not be what he is ultimately getting at. I read it as coming to an understanding of the necessary risk of getting hurt. That double layer of meaning makes the lyrics all the more intriguing.