Four Winds


Conor Oberst is so self-effacing to show himself getting pelted by an unruly audience. False modesty, Conor. It’s getting a bit cliche to keep saying, but I hold that Oberst is one of the few (if not the only) brilliant lyricists today who isn’t pushing towards or past retirement age. There’s plenty enough young musicians running around who are gifted and amazing, don’t misinterpret. But there aren’t very many who squirrel into the memory by words alone. Perhaps I’m not entirely objective here, because of how many Bright Eyes songs are tied up to me emotionally, but I’ve heard others say the same thing. The phalanx of critics lining up with laurels emblazoned “New Robert Zimmerman” stretches around the block and if it weren’t for the stigma of the ’emo’ categorization it’d be an even bigger crowd. Emo is an amorphous ‘genre’ that also includes dreck like Fall Out Boy and the insufferable Dashboard Confessional, so for casual observers it may be easy to dismiss Bright Eyes as something weepy teenage misfits listen and ascribe great importance to. It may sound belittling but it’s weepy teenage misfits who carried the torch for now canonized songwriters from Lou Reed to Morrissey. Also in regards to emo and its association with teenage weepiness, there’s a current of backlash from detractors who insinuate that Oberst gets an unfair amount of credit from critics who either are or formerly were weepy teenage girls and want to ascribe him great importance because he’s SO CUTE!! (An image problem Dylan never had to deal with.) But I’ve no doubt he will outgrow his dreamy-boy image and hold on to any and all credit on the sheer strength of his material.

Your class, your caste, your country, sect, your name or your tribe
There’s people always dying trying to keep them alive
There’s bodies decomposing in containers tonight
In an abandoned building where
Squatters made a mural of a Mexican girl
With fifteen cans of spray paint and a chemical swirl
She’s standing in the ashes at the end of the world
Four winds blowing through her hair

But when great Satan’s gone… the Whore of Babylon…
She just can’t sustain the pressure where it’s placed
She caves

The Bible’s blind, the Torah’s deaf, the Qur’an’s mute
If you burned them all together you’d get close to the truth still
They’re pouring over Sanskrit on the Ivy League moons
While shadows lengthen in the sun
Cast all the school and meditation built to soften the times
And hold us at the center while the spiral unwinds
It’s knocking over fences crossing property lines
Four Winds, cry until it comes

And it’s the Sum of Man slouching towards Bethlehem
A heart just can’t contain all of that empty space
It breaks. It breaks. It breaks.

Well I went back by rented Cadillac and company jet
Like a newly orphaned refugee retracing my steps
All the way to Cassadaga to commune with the dead
They said, “You’d better look alive”
And I was off to old Dakota where a genocide sleeps
In the Black Hills, the Badlands, the calloused East
I buried my ballast. I made my peace.

Heard Four Winds, leveling the pines

But when great Satan’s gone… the Whore of Babylon…
She just can’t remain with all that outer space
She breaks. She breaks. She caves. She caves.

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