Saturday, September 10, 2016

Exploring Kurt Vile's "Shame Chamber"

"Shame Chamber" is one of Kurt Vile's best songs, from my favorite album of his, 2013's Wakin on a Pretty Daze. It is one of those songs that reveals its meaning jointly through the music and lyrics, despite some incongruence on the surface. Musically, it is upbeat--inflected in the guitar part and the vocalized whoops--which clues you in that this is not a mopey song, despite what your first impression of the lyrics may be.

Everyone's sayin I should probably give up
And hey, I wouldn't wanna waste no time
How can I even look myself in the mirror
Then again, why would I?

It's just another day in the shame chamber
Living life to the lowest power
Feeling bad in the best way a man can

As he is getting negative talk from others and also from himself, he could easily succumb. Instead, he will acknowledge it and forge ahead. A line in his song "Dust Bunnies" echoes that sentiment: "I don't got time to wallow around in it." In dealing with putdowns, pain, and frustration, he realizes he is in a "shame chamber," but at the same time "feeling bad in the best way a man can." There is a sense that he is making the best out of the situation and his lot in life, and that he has a glimmer of ambition.

There is also acknowledgment of a shared component, like what he sings in "Puppet to the Man": "Sometimes I get in a rut too, it's okay girlfriend."

Shame on you, shame on you
Shame on you
Oh baby when you cry, it brings a tear to my eye
Oh shame on us

"Shame Chamber" is a witty and original take on hardship and alienation, infused with dark humor (a KV hallmark). He pulls off a fun song with lyrical content that has a fair amount of pain at its core. The effect is a mixture of wryness, stoicism, and hope, and it works well.