After all this discussion about dominant/submissive relationship dynamics expressed in the lyrics of Silver, it is fitting that the last song should be called “The Dungeon”. Honestly y’all, I did not plan it out this way. I didn’t even realize that this was going to happen until I was looking at the Silver tracklist yesterday. I know that I said I wasn’t talking about BDSM when describing dom/sub relationship dynamics but I may have to rethink whether the singer intends this. I mean, if it is there, it’s there, right?
We are closing out this album with the place of the submissive boy’s torture. The rhythm guitars are tighter, the drums more punctuated, the lead guitar wails more so than on any other song on Silver. The way the song is constructed betrays a sort of fascination with the rhythm of aggression and it revels in pain.
We talked about how the girl intentionally tortures the boy to get him to reveal himself. The lyrics describe the way she tortures him. The first way has been mentioned several times in the previous songs; it is the other boy who gets all her attention and love. The second method of torture is her absence. She is described as being outside or always in the hallway. Our submissive boy is all trussed up in the dungeon and she doesn’t even bother to come into the dungeon and watch his suffering.
For the boy’s part in this, he waits for her and he is always ready to take the blame. The song ends with him repeating that it all will remain the same. And it will remain the same until someone breaks the dynamic. But for the time being, it remains as it is. Probably because, ultimately, they both like it that way.
And so we have one album down on this sf59 blog project. As I mentioned before, Silver is one of my least favorite sf59 albums. It’s not that there is anything flawed about the album. I got into She’s the Queen and Gold before I got into Silver. After hearing the majesty of Gold, Silver seemed like a step backwards. But I’ve come to a new appreciation of Silver after taking a deep dive into each song and contemplating the thematic intent. In some cases, I had no idea what the lyrics were to some of these songs until I spent the time to focus on it and write about it. It’s been a good experience for me. Thanks to all of you going on this ride with me! Everyday I look forward to your comments and hearing your thoughts and experiences with these songs.
I confess that Silver is one of my least favorite sf59 albums. It hovers just above Talking Voice vs Singing Voice at the bottom of my list. I love this song though. This song and “Blue Collar Love” are the only ones on this album that get to live on another day by making onto a playlist or mixtape. I love how mellow it is and how the guitars are so interwoven. It is the peace in the storm of the rest of the album.
The song begins in a place of stalemate. The lovers are holding hands on the roadside. Obviously there are places to go because there is a road right there but they stay where they are because staying in place at least does not make the situation sadder.
This song too carries the theme of dominance and submission that permeate the songs on this album. Let’s unpack this and see what is underneath the words. To clarify, when I speak of the dominance/submission dynamic, I am not talking about BDSM. I pointing the more general psychological motivations for the roles that we may choose to play in a relationship. The dominance/submission dynamic tends to occur in relationships with people who are not whole. It is when you seek out another half person to fill the voids within you.
The songs we’ve looked at thus far describe the girl as being dominate and the boy as submitting to her demands. We’ve seen some explanation as to why the boy submits but this song is the first to give us a peek at the motivations for the girl to dominate. In Erich Fromm’s description of symbiotic unions, he describes the motivation of the sadist as an attempt to gain “secret knowledge” of the other. In short, she wants to know.
“There is one way, a desperate one, to know the secret: it is that of complete power over another person; the power which makes him do what we want, think what we want; which transforms him into a thing, our thing, our possession. The ultimate degree of this attempt to know lies in the extremes of sadism, the desire and ability to make a human being suffer; to torture him, to force him to betray his secret in his suffering.” The Art of Loving, pg 27
She toys with him and tortures him as a cat tortures a mouse before it is killed. It is a game. She does this so that he will reveal all that is hidden within him, not because he chooses to do so willingly but because he sees no other option except to acquiesce in order to keep her attention which he desperately needs to distract him from the void within himself.
Because she has tortured him, he has revealed himself and she can control him. She knows and understands him better than he knows himself. She only knows.
But there is another side to this. The submissive has motivations too that are just as depraved. If she is the only one who knows the world, then she is the only one who can make decisions. She is the one who charts the course they both are on. He submits his will to her guidance and her demands. When it all falls apart and goes tits up (as it inevitably will) she will be the one left with the responsibility of the failure. It will all be her fault because she was the only one with the ability to choose and she chose wrongly. Of course, it is not actually true that she was the only one who could exert her will, but it is the reality for the masochist.
Fromm says, “The masochistic person does not have to make decisions, does not have to take any risks; he is never alone – but he is not independent; he has no integrity; he is not yet fully born.” Both the boy and the girl use each other as objects to escape their own isolation and anxiety. There is no sympathetic figure here.
It’s this a cute, happy little tune? I believe it is even in a major key. Well, we can’t let that stand. Let’s see if we can make it a little more sinister.
A reoccurring theme on Silver is this girl who has and controls it all. The boy is at her mercy and tags along, waiting for those moments when she will give him whatever it is that he lacks. The title of the song implies that the happy days are gone when she is gone. Therefore, she controls his happiness and he submits to this domination.
There is a danger to placing your joy and your peace in another person. It may work out for awhile if you happen to pick someone who has good intentions, but it will eventually fall apart because relationships cannot be balanced with this dynamic. Really, making another person responsible for your happiness is too much to ask of anyone. It has its roots in the person’s depravity, not in their love.
The lyrics hint at this. Even though the happy days have returned with the girl, the boy is not happy because “cause when she smiles it shakes my sickest phase.” He knows something is sick here and he knows that sickness begins with him.
Much like my love of the Lounge version of “Monterey”, my favorite version of “Droned” is the In Love version. No hate for the Silver version; it just doesn’t pull at the strings of my heart in the same way.
I fell in love with the In Love version shortly after my 16th birthday. My parents bought me an acoustic guitar and a chord sheet and I set about teaching myself how to play in the most analog way possible. A week after my birthday, a severe snowstorm hit that kept us snowed in for 3 weeks and at least 2 of those weeks were without electricity. But I had my Walkman, plenty of batteries and my She’s the Queen cassette. I did not have a tuner for my guitar but I found the high e at a certain part in “Droned” and I would use it to tune off of. I also tried to figure out how to play the song by ear which just ended in disaster.
On those long, cold days, I would put on my headphones and just melt into the guitars and JM’s whispering and longing vocals. I imagined what it would be like to be in love, having not had the experience yet. I think this was the genesis point with my propensity to be in love with being in love. Turns out that this song is a horrible template to use for learning what being in love is like and it has taken me years to figure this out.
JM sings about how he knows when she’s faking it. I wish I had that kind of discernment but the evidence of past relationships shows that I do not. And there always seems to be a “he” who may or may not be away and who determines my place in the relationship. The “he” may not even be an actual person; it could just be whatever golden idol my partner is focused on at the time. I end up staying in these relationships longer than I should. Maybe it’s because I still believe that they are the best thing, easily. Maybe, like JM, I just don’t know how to let go.
If I think that love should be this way, I will draw people to me who will fulfill the role. So now I’m changing my idea of what I think love should be. We will see if it changes the kind of people who are drawn to me or who I am drawn to.
In this song, we see JM trying on the Pixies’ song structure (loud, quiet, loud) on for size. It must have felt too small because he altered it to loud, quiet, quieter, loud. It’s all good though. Anything that remotely reminds me of my enduring love for Kim Deal automatically gets gold stars.
I confess that I had no idea this song was about Jesus. I really didn’t start understanding most of JM’s singing until around Leave Here a Stranger. I’ve never bothered to look up the lyrics until today. I just thought it was one of his sentimental songs about his friends as that is a persistent theme. My new favorite lyric is:
Born to grace The one that you don’t chase
Both grace and my propensity to chase after things have been major themes of my introspection in the past year. Born into the family dynamics that I was, I’ve always had to chase after something. If I wasn’t chasing after people, I was chasing after ideas or some arbitrary quest I created for myself. I have often described myself as being like a shark who has to swim even when it is sleeping, just to propel water through its gills.
My relationship with God is one area where I haven’t felt the need to chase. It is a strange thing since that is how I have historically approached everything else in my life. I’ve had conversations with friends where they described seeking God like Ahab sought Moby Dick. I’m not sure why I’m different. It’s certainly not because of anything I have done; if there was a way to fuck it up, I would have found it. Maybe God just knew that I needed grace early and I need it often. I don’t know where I would be or who I would be without it.
“The Zenith” sounds bright. It is the light of the sun reflected off rumbling creek water. I don’t know how the guitars can be so intermingled, fuzzy and yet bright at the same time. It is a mystery that defies my explanations. Then the tempo changes and we get that simple, repetitive guitar solo that moves you along and makes you feel a little bit outside of normal time. It is the best of memories of sunny, spring days wrapped together.
The lyrics tell of the “she” who is under the blue skies and the “you” on the blue side as she swirls by. I’m on the fence about whether the song is about sex or if it is about the Holy Spirit. Actually, let me rephrase that. I think it is about both sex and the Holy Spirit simultaneously. In my experience, the best sex is always spiritual. This idea is not without precedent. The Hebrew verb for “to know” (yada) is used in the Bible to describe sex but also to describe human relationship with God. Also, have you ever read Song of Songs? I mean, come on (and you can take that last part as a dirty pun if you want to).
Let’s start with the low hanging fruit with this interpretation. The color blue is prominent in the lyrics. The color blue is associated with experiences of grace, revelation, healing and restoration. It is the color associated with the Holy Spirit and with Mary, mother of Christ (the only woman in the Bible to get a booty call from God). I could also get into some esoteric Catholic theology about how blue is the color of the Godhead, but I will spare you that lecture today (but just imagine all the dirty puns I could make out of that if I went there).
Transcendent spiritual experiences and really good, life-changing sex have a lot in common. You are in your body fully, present in the moment, fully loved and fully loving. You feel a little bit outside of normal time. You are respected and supported in the embrace of your lover. You move in and out of each other, each responding to the rapture you share together. You are transformed in the finding and in being found by the one you are with. And these are only the experiences I can verbalize. The best parts are ineffable which leaves me at a loss for words. So I will hand it off to a quote by the mystic nun Hadewijch. I hope that it inspires you to have a good time under the blue skies.
“And my heart and my veins and all my limbs trembled and shuddered with desire . . . The state of desire in which I then was cannot be expressed by any words or any person that I know. And even that which I could say of it would be incomprehensible to all who hadn’t confessed this love by means of acts of passion and who were not known by Love. This much I can say about it: I desired to consummate my Lover completely and to confess and to savor in the fullest extent–to fulfil his humanity blissfully with mine and to experience mine therein, and to be strong and perfect so that I in turn would satisfy him perfectly: to be purely and exclusively and completely virtuous in every virtue.”
This is the first song in the chronology where we really hear a pop hook. Despite all the distorted, and Dresden air raid-esque guitars wailing, there is a pop hook here. It’s the same quality that stood out about Kurt Cobain’s music of the same era. When you got past all the grunge trappings, Cobain wrote damn good pop hooks. I knew, even back in the Silver days, that JM could write them too and there would come a day when those shy pop hooks would stop hiding behind all that distortion and fuzz and come out to stand on their own.
As for the lyrical content, I think you can take it in about any direction. Today I’m going to take it in a spiritual direction, not because I think it is the only interpretation or the best one, but more because it’s the idea I feel like working with today. Let’s start with the opening lyrics:
Honestly I’d rather sleep But you’re holding me To it all
Let’s take this as a metaphor for being spiritually awake as we see described in 1 Samuel 3 when God keeps waking Samuel up by calling his name in the middle of the night. God apparently does not have a snooze button or a sense of when one needs their beauty sleep. If God wants you to be awake, he’s not going to stop pestering you until you wake up. It’s like a cat who realizes that he can see a portion of the bottom of the food bowl at 3 AM and will not stop swatting at your sleepy face until you get up and do something about it. And, man, does that get irritating.
I cannot recall a time when I was not spiritually awake, although there may have been a few times when I was spiritually napping. There are many days when I would prefer to be asleep and I might even choose a spiritual coma if it is on the menu.
My mentor once told me that I was born in the Spirit. I’m not sure what that means; it could just be one of those things that wise women say that aren’t meant to be understood by the intellect. As soon as I could speak, I was talking about God. As soon as I could write, I was writing notes about Jesus and drawing pictures of him. I told people about Jesus as if he was someone I knew and they should know him too because he is a great friend. I read once that children often form their concept of the heavenly father by taking their understanding of their earthly father and expanding on that concept over time. By the time I was 5, I was writing notes to my earthly father about how he needed to understand grace and be more like Jesus. There was definitely something different about my innate awareness of God.
But this is not an easy thing and, honestly, I’d rather sleep. Where I feel the most friction in my everyday life comes from moral obligations or moral duty. I find that Kant described it best as “categorical imperatives” (an unconditional moral obligation which is binding in all circumstances and is not dependent on a person’s inclination or purpose).
Kant said that these categorical imperatives are innate; we are born with this knowledge of our moral duty. Therein lies the rub. I can’t get away from it. Maybe she’s born with it; maybe it’s never ending moral duty. All the days when I would rather be spiritually asleep, when I would rather be self centered, the idea of moral duty comes back to me. God holds me to it all. And you, Kant, always get what you want and before I know it, I’m back in line, shifting my focus from my selfishness to what is outside of me and greater than me.
It is fractured sense of internal motivation that JM captures well in this lyric:
I’m craving To lift you up And I’m craving To take the fall
On the deeper side, when I get past my spiritual temper tantrums, I see that all this frustration is just temporal. God is mine and he’s it all. That’s where I find peace.
This song starts out with feedback and the entrance of an army of distorted guitars. It seeks to disabuse you of the idea that this could be a happy song right in the beginning. Don’t be fooled by those mellow, harmonic notes in the guitars. This song isn’t happy, you get it?
Still though, this song brings up a combination of happy and frightful memories for me. I can swear I hear a chorus pedal on one of those layered guitars. Chorus pedals always make me think of being a kid at the local swimming pool in the summer and dunking my head under the water as long as I could to listen to the music blaring from the speakers and to marvel at how differently the music sounded underneath the surface.
The reference to a sled reminds me of snowy, winter days when I dragged my plastic sled to the top of the hill. The sled didn’t have brakes because us kids in the early/mid 80’s went balls to the wall like that. I would slide over the surface of that steep incline, barreling towards what would inevitably be a hard landing or a crash (and if that isn’t a metaphor for my adult relationship patterns, then I just don’t know what).
But this album in general also reminds me of spring, particularly that hour before a storm hits when you feel the wind getting a little wild and there is electricity in the air. I was just sitting outside on my porch, smoking a cigarette and listening to this song on repeat as I felt a spring storm moving in. Recent evidence shows that this song still fits that scenario.
Can I make it four seasons in one song? Let’s go for it. How about the fall of the human heart? The lyrics don’t give us much to go on. We have a “she” who doesn’t care and is described as a sled; probably someone who barrels down the surface of a relationship towards an inevitable crash. We have a “he” who is just as bad. And we have a “you” whose heart is not there. Does the “you” refer to the “she” or the “he”? Is the “you” the singer singing about himself in second person? Who knows?
All we can say for certain is that there is a definite lack of caring and hearts that just aren’t there. This reminds me of my experiences with two people who have personality disorders, narcissistic and borderline specifically. Although these are two different disorders, they share some similarities in how they are formed and what behaviors may result from those disorders.
Both disorders come from a mixture of genetics and pervasive experiences of neglect, exploitation and/or abuse, usually occurring before age 5. Experiencing these kinds of horrible realities while the brain and the personality are still forming messes with the development process and results in lifelong disordered thinking patterns. They cannot simultaneously hold the view that a person may have both good and bad qualities. A person is either all good or all bad, no in-between. This understanding is formed at a young age when the child has to deal with the reality that the person who loves and cares for them is also the person who abuses and neglects them. Without the coping skills to reconcile this, they split their understanding of the person who abuses into two separate people: there is the person who loves and cares for me and there is another person who abuses and neglects me and these two people just happen to share the same face.
This pattern of understanding people gets carried forward into adult relationships. People with narcissistic and borderline personality disorders will often idealize a person at the beginning of the relationship. You are all good. You are the best person ever. They’ve been waiting all their lives to meet someone as completely awesome as you. But then something will happen that will change the nature of the relationship. They put you on a pedestal so high that no one can actually live up there. Eventually you will disappoint them in some way. It is as inevitable as that crash at the bottom of that snowy hill. With no way to reconcile the reality that you are a good person who may have made a mistake, you become all bad in their eyes.
This behavior is referred to as “splitting”. Being in a relationship with a narcissist or a borderline after they have split you is jarring and leaves you with no firm ground to stand on. You go from being beloved, the person who hung the moon and the stars to being completely worthless. It is not just that you are completely worthless now that you have disappointed them; oh no, you’ve always been worthless from the beginning. You never did one good thing during the entire relationship.
One of the most jarring aspects of being on the receiving end of a split is that the heart of that person that you love is just not there anymore. The only emotions you are likely to get from them are rage and contempt. With the narcissist in my life, the rage was like forest fire burning. With the borderline, the contempt stung like if you put your hand on a block of dry ice and keep there a second too long. At some point, both of those people have looked at me with eyes so vengeful that I felt like they literally wanted to kill me in that moment. I thought I was just being dramatic in interpreting those looks that way until I watched that documentary about Ted Bundy on Netflix and I saw the look of barely contained rage that he gave the judge who ruled against him in the courtroom. It was the same look (and Bundy was a narcissist). Once you see a look like that directed at you, you never forget it.
These are the examples I think of when I hear JM sing of the heart that is just not there. These are extreme examples, I know, but these are the ones I have. I don’t mean to paint people with these personality disorders as being incurably evil. They behave the way that they do because of what was real and irreconcilable trauma. They did not ask to be this way. They are protecting themselves in the only way that they know, flawed as that method may be. I have compassion for that. And that tells me that my heart is still here.
I got my hands on She’s the Queen before Silver, so to me the Lounge version is the definitive version of this song. The Silver version has always seemed to me to be a demo of them playing the song before they learned how it should be played. As I write of my fondness of this song, it is mostly for the Lounge version.
One of the distinctive things about the Lounge version is the voices in the background. It sounded like a room where I would belong; a place where people talked about ideas, laughed and enjoyed life. It is a place I desperately wanted to find; a place that was anything but the rural Kentucky wilderness I was living in as a teenager.
In my high school days, I always carried a Walkman and a case of at least 15 cassettes. At the time I thought it was just for my love of music, but now I realize it was a form of self-care. SF59 was a perfect band to play on the Walkman and drown out a harsh and abrasive world. My love of “Monterey” was formed on evening drives in my Mom’s minivan when she chose to play Focus on the Family on the radio. I don’t know if it was on overt attempt to steer me away from the gay and all my independent thinking or if it was just coincidence since it came on at 6 PM when we were always out running errands. I would put on my headphones, sink into that plush Captain’s chair on the passenger side, turn up the volume enough to drown out James Dobson and long for this place where I would belong as I felt the vibration of the tires rumbling over the pavement.
I feel like JM was in a similar place when writing the lyrics for “Monterey”. We can tell that he is around someone who is at least perceived to be better than him. He as at a loss of words around this person. But then a change happens. He says that he’s turning off here to a place that he knows, a place this better person doesn’t know. JM often uses driving as a metaphor in his lyrics. It is usually indicative of him taking a different path or asserting his autonomy or will. That is certainly the case here as we see him moving away from this better person to go to his own place.
I identified with this so much (and still do). In my teenage years, I was beset upon by better people on all sides. I didn’t fit in with the praise and worship, evangelical kids because of my propensity to challenge the church and ask difficult questions. I was too mellow for the metalheads. I was even too weird for the alternateens and non-conformists who, oddly, had very specific criteria for how one should be non-conformist. Professing any love of Christ was the kiss of death with this group and marked you as the enemy. There were no shades of grey allowed.
And so I went about my days, drowning out the better people by playing SF59 and finding worlds within the layers of sound. I always hoped that I would find this place that I both knew and didn’t know. Twenty-five years later, I still have not found that external place where I belong. But I belong in the worlds within and I am mostly at peace with that.
It never occurred to me what this song meant to me, at least in a conscious way, until I started writing this today. It makes me wonder why I am coming back to it at this point in my life. Am I trying to drown out the world? Possibly. There is much going on in the world now that I would prefer to be oblivious to. Is it equal parts love of music and self-care? Probably. I still need it now as much as I ever did.
Maybe I just need to remember how to get back to the place I know.
Back in ’94, my 15 year old self was no stranger to heavy music. But what my 15 year old self did not know was that heavy music could simultaneously be melodic and gentle – that is until I heard “Blue Collar Love”. Those guitar chords are as deep as the ocean but smooth, without the rough edges you hear in metal. Even the screeching guitar feedback seems melodic. Who can pull off such wizardry?
JM’s velvet vocals, soft and forlorn, weave in and out of those watery depths of the guitar and bass. All together, it is enough to put a girl into a trance state. All this water imagery coming to mind makes me wonder if JM is a Pisces because that’s how those Pisceans work.
The lyrics are impressionistic at best, as most of JM’s early writing was. All that we really have to go on is a girl who takes it all and the saddest of boys left behind with “all the things [he’s] just not”.
It reminds me of Erich Fromm’s description of symbiotic love; love that is based on mutual need rather than mutual respect and concern. The need comes from a place of internal woundedness and a feeling of being incomplete. You use the other person as an object to fulfill your needs. I need the her because she fills the places that are empty in my soul. When she leaves and takes it all and I am left with the crushing void within. You know, that sort of thing.
Fromm says this: “Infantile love follows the principle: ‘I love because I am loved.’ Mature love follows the principle: ‘I am loved because I love.’ Immature love says: ‘I love you because I need you.’ Mature love says: ‘I need you because I love you.’ “
Did the saddest of boys really love her or did he just need her to distract him from all the things he’s just not? Now this song seems much more sinister, doesn’t it?