Tag: Bright Eyes

Make a Plan to Love Me

Conor Oberst has really come a long way from the teenage boy making tapes in his bedroom. Sometimes he even performs with an orchestra! He’s had Emmylou Harris as a backup singer, and he’s dated Winona Ryder. He’s been called that dreaded epithet, ‘The New Dylan’. He’s the artist who made emo music legit. Cassadega was released in 2007, at the height of Bright Eyes’ mainstream popularity, such as it was. It had big name guest stars, a lot of publicity and a peak position of #4 on the charts. Since then, the publicity has cooled, and Oberst has gone back to being prolific mainly for his die-hard followers. Which is fine enough; being a chart monster was never his goal. But, since his home recording days, he really hasn’t changed much. He still writes uncomfortably perceptive songs about the finer points of human emotion, still sung with the most intense sincerity. (Although some of them are now about parenting.) Being labeled ’emo’ is a bit of a cross to bear, for an artist who takes himself seriously. We tend to think of ’emo’ subjects – love and heartache and loneliness and inner pain and whatnot – as whiny and adolescent, especially when coming from the lips of someone very youthful and doe-eyed. But those are things that, deep down, we never really outgrow. We just learn to mask them better. It’s also worth noting that the reason Conor Oberst established himself so deeply and so far ahead of other sensitive singer-songwriters was because he wrote about all of those ‘adolescent’ things with remarkable maturity. It takes a high degree of sophistication to lift emotional topics – however sincere – out of the mundane.


“We might die from medication but we sure killed all the pain”

That’s the end of love songs, then. After a long and torturous slog that I wasn’t prepared to deal with at all, we come out. But of course, there’s never an end to love songs. There’s never an end to other people’s happiness and heartbreak. You always run up against somebody’s depression. Like Conor Oberst’s young people nearly crippled by pain they can’t even name. You can dismiss it as romanticized hipster woe, with its West Side lofts and yellow taxis, but for me it still strikes a chord. Have you had those times when you can’t drown or silence the heaviness of your heart? And you can’t even articulate why. It’s not healthy or romantic or glamorous, but as the poet says, it is one way to live.

Lover I Don’t Have to Love

Bright Eyes has always summed up a lot of important things for me, and this song particularly carries a lot of resonance.

“Lover I Don’t Have To Love”

I picked you out
Of a crowd and talked to you
Said I liked your shoes
You said thanks can I follow you?
So it’s up the stairs
And out of view
No prying eyes
I poured some wine
I asked your name you asked the time
Now it’s two o’clock,
the club is closed we’re up the block
Your hands on me
I’m pressing hard against your jeans
Your tongue in my mouth
Trying to keep the words from coming out
You didn’t care to know
Who else may have been you before
I want a lover I don’t have to love
I want a girl who’s too sad to give a fuck
Where’s the kid with the chemicals?
I thought he said to meet me here but I’m not sure
I got the money if you got the time
You said it feels good I said I’ll give it a try
Then my mind went dark
We both forgot where your car was parked
Let’s just take the train
I’ll meet up with the band in the morning
Bad actors with bad habits
Some sad singers
They just play tragic
And the phone’s ringing
And the van’s leaving
Let’s just keep touching
Let’s just keep keep singing
I want a lover I don’t have to love
I want a boy who’s so drunk he doesn’t talk
Where’s the kid with the chemicals
I got a hunger and I can’t seem to get full
I need some meaning I can memorize
The kind I have always seems to slip my mind
But you but you
You write such pretty words
But life’s no story book
Love’s an excuse to get hurt
And to hurt
“Do you like to hurt?”
“I do! I do!”
“Then hurt me.” [fades]

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.

First Day of My Life

There’s no song that has more of a personal meaning to me than this one. It’s a long story and I can’t tell it all, but I first heard this sung a cappella by a dirty boy in a knitted cap, in front of a fire, in the middle of the woods. The same night I met and fell in love with someone. It breaks my heart to hear it now and try to remember that it was a beautiful moment, when I really did think my life had finally begun, except that it was the opposite. It wasn’t the beginning of anything happy and every moment that was good is irrevocably tainted and there aren’t any good memories left. All I got was four years of abuse and a hard lesson about love at first sight – don’t fall for it. I’m crying now.

This is the first day of my life
I swear I was born right in the doorway
I went out in the rain suddenly everything changed
They’re spreading blankets on the beach

Yours is the first face that I saw
I think I was blind before I met you
Now I don’t know where I am
I don’t know where I’ve been
But I know where I want to go

And so I thought I’d let you know
That these things take forever
I especially am slow
But I realize that I need you
And I wondered if I could come home

Remember the time you drove all night
Just to meet me in the morning
And I thought it was strange you said everything changed
You felt as if you’d just woke up
And you said “this is the first day of my life
I’m glad I didn’t die before I met you
But now I don’t care I could go anywhere with you
And I’d probably be happy”

So if you want to be with me
With these things there’s no telling
We just have to wait and see
But I’d rather be working for a paycheck
Than waiting to win the lottery
Besides maybe this time is different
I mean I really think you like me