i often feel that the way music operates is in a “resonant” sense, bringing to mind a constellation of meanings – ever shifting – with a note or line: not something clearly apprehended but something that rattles around inside you. this is just my reflections on a couple of songs i enjoy, and what they make me think of – not necessarily anything coherent.
Gang of Four, “Return the Gift”
Please send me evenings and weekends.
Amidst the clanging, deteriorating guitars and the failure of the rhythm, the line echoes out as yet another breakdown: not a plea or a lament, but an ever-repeating signal, destined to die out unheard.
Please send me evenings and weekends. Even without a close analysis of the rest of the song – loss of opportunity, loss of hope, loss of words – the meaning is clear on some level. Maybe this meaning is not something we can articulate to ourselves, but this barely matters: the force of the words resonates within it (and maybe suggests meaning in music is not something apprehended with a cool intellect, but is in fact this resonant, bodily shaking – something irreducible and undecipherable, rendering articulation and explanation as secondary).
Few people are spared the horror of the 9 to 5 (if not worse), and all know the sacredness of the evening, the weekend: whenever they fall for the worker, these secular Sabbaths of respite are the only true moments of the week. Time sweeps you away, work sweeps you away, a life that is not your own and a self that is not yourself sweeps you away: only in the evening, on the weekend, can we cling to and regather that other self: that supposedly truer self that is washed by time into a fiction.
In this light, what is it to ask: please send me evenings and weekends? Fill my shifts until they overflow, rob me of my refuge, drain that other self until I barely remember it, or better yet, until I don’t remember it at all. We can tell from the singer’s voice that it’s not the joy of work. “Return the Gift” is industrial drudgery, repetition, living death. And yet he emotionlessly pleads for more, more, more.
Maybe the answer is in the sacred/profane duality of time and work, life and money: on one hand, what is a life without money? When the minimum wage job fills the week and still leaves nothing for the weekend, what is there but to work more, more, more? On the other hand – is this what it has come to? Is there really nothing left inside me when my time is drained and my spirit is crushed? Send me back to work so at least I no longer have to think.
Future, “Never Forget”
Future’s song ‘Never Forget’ is a mass of associations – semi-related lines and thoughts, biographical, confessional and observational – that add up to a singular, powerful picture. The lines and the beat become a singular figure: a constellation of meaning without a particular centre or outlier, but rather a churning mass; a dark system of hope and failure, guilt and redemption, wealth and the abyss.
As the title implies, memory is the theme here: the past reverberating in the present, the claws of predetermination and familial recurrence digging into the future. Unusually, Future’s voice is unmodified and extra-pained in the harshness as he recounts stories of childhood visits to family members to prison contrasted with warnings against the drugs he’s now consuming and selling. Wealth and material salvation hover above societal decay and oppression.
Two sets of lines at different points in the song are a particularly chilling narrative:
I ain’t make my auntie’s funeral, I ain’t never forget it
I know she know I love her and I hope she forgive me
I’m drankin’ on my lean, I swear to God I would quit
My auntie was a fiend, I used to serve her a hit
I’m thankin’ God today that she don’t smoke it no more
I made so much fuckin’ money I put a safe in the floor
Whether or not this is the same aunt or not is unclear: if so, however, is death better than the hit? Addiction and relapse, drug death and healing wealth, paranoia and luxury sit side by side, a cluster of meaning and contradiction so entangled as to be singular.
Nomeansno, “Forget Your Life”
One of the best songs on Nomeansno’s album The Day Everything Became Nothing is “Forget Your Life”, also one of the most monotonous and heavy tracks. Lumbering, doom-laden verses string out a painful scenario, “if…
you feel / like nothing / nothing and no one
and you see / nothing / nothing and no one…
The horror intensifies, the introspection and crippled insides multiply. Suddenly, the clouds break: the chorus opens up into a slowed, throwed, yet nonetheless full chugalug-inspirational power metal dazzler:
forget your life! forget your life! forget your life!
Fairly depressing on some level, maybe, but who cares about lyrics now. The meathead confidence of the rocker has overpowered that introspective shit like the dweeby sentiment it is: only the surface remains – forget it, “rock out”. On some level, this is the song’s most prominent and greatest achievement: maintaining the intellectual dignity of existential despair while rocking with some disturbingly feel-good goofmetal chords, without sounding like it’s doing it for the sake of irony alone, or, indeed, like there’s anything put on about the juxtaposition.
In a way, there’s no juxtaposition at all between the words and the music.
It’s in this conspicuous absence of contrast that the song’s facets begin to reveal themselves. At first glance, it would be easy to take the sentiment of “life is nothing” (combined with the album title) at face-value nihilism: there’s no shortage of forehead-crushed rock ‘n’ roll tinnies to attest to the ready marriage of ignorant chords and forgetting your life. But it runs past that, deeper than that. The day that everything became nothing was not so easy to bear, and the sorrows were not so easy to drown
Nomeansno don’t stop at nihilism, but move past it into some kind of absurd moment of clarity and peace, and most importantly, some suggestion of the end of pain; a scale beyond comprehension where all our sins and victories are weighed as blissfully meaningless: you’re scared? What are you scared of?
The chorus is not a confirmation of the verses’ nihilism, but a refutation: and the refutation is that your life is nothing. Not meaningless, nihilistic nothing, but nothing nonetheless: a game, a spark, a flash. Ultimately what emerges is not despair and hopelessness but the joy of the absurd, of the meaningless life brimming with meaning. This is rock for people who hate rock, for people who hate to rock.