We begin this song with the scratchy feedback noise that closed out “Too Much Fun”. That scratchy feedback will carry us through the closing of this album. It’s a little bit annoying, like a repeating narrative in your head that you want to go away but yet it persists. The drums beat out a sparse, slow tempo and then we land in all this reverb. You really need a slow song like this to work through the afterglow of “Too Much Fun”. You need to lie in the embrace of all this reverb for awhile just to come back to earth.
But it’s not all just warm, fuzzy afterglow. There’s some creepy stuff in here too. Let’s start with the organ. It’s a cross between a churchy vibe and a Vincent Price horror soundtrack. We have a few church bell chimes in the background (but for whom does the bell toll?). The lead guitar and the vocals bend for notes, trying so hard to find that place where all is in tune, in time and in harmony (and don’t you find those same bends in your own life?). The vocals in the verses are not overdubbed. In the chorus, we get a separate backing vocal that is either run through a delay pedal or is intentionally sung a half beat behind. It throws you off because it is too quiet to be heard and appreciated as its own entity but loud enough for you to recognize that something is not quite right. It is like a person speaking with two tongues.
At a first listen, it seems too low key to be an appropriate album closer. But listen to what is underneath and you can hear how the themes of all the previous songs roll into this one.
These could be days
Like Lamech, Methuselah
Doesn’t it sound like the singer wants it to be like the days of Lamech and Methuselah? Doesn’t he want to get some Old Testament fear and retribution going on now? When I think of the Old Testament, I think of a people with an excessive concern for ritual purity – at least when it was convenient for them to be concerned with it. The Old Testament laws and rituals were primarily concerned with maintaining or regaining purity. Some preachers around here get really worked up about preaching the Old Testament. They speak of it as the fairy tale land we should all want to return to; where God will smite you for the slightest offence and we can ostracize and criticize anyone we don’t think is following the law in our eyes. Really? This is a time we want to go back to? (Side note, these same preachers usually end up getting revealed for carrying on affairs, misusing church funds or having some addiction or another.)
But let’s take a closer look at Lamech and his father, Methuselah. Lamech was the first Biblical polygamist. He killed a man and was exiled from the community. His wives refused to have sex with him as punishment. Methuselah lived until his grandson, Noah, built the Ark, but died before the flood so that he would not be killed with the unrighteous. If these times were so great and the people followed the law and kept their purity, why did they have to be wiped out with a flood?
Boys after girls
And the girls after the boys
Here we go. Another song chiding boys and girls for having sex. About half the songs on this album focus on this very thing. JM must have been very concerned about this at this time and he wants you to know you will face consequences if you walk this path.
But you wrote it down
I admit it; I’m not really sure what this part means. But it has to mean something because JM wrote it down.
Let’s take a moment to talk about themes and interpretations. It seems like the best place to do it. I’ve talked about how the theme of this album is judgement and projection. Do I think that JM intended to write an entire album with the alternating themes of condemning others for their sins while abdicating responsibility for your own space in the world? No, I don’t. That sounds way too artsy and uncool for someone like JM to attempt. But we are not always in total control when we write. In fact, if you are writing well, your writing will become a conduit for ideas and concepts that are greater than what you intend or maybe even realize at the time. I think JM wrote about what bothered him at the time: the malaise of his own life and boys and girls dancing with evil and having sex. What makes my interpretation of the album different is that I see these two realities as connected to each other.
One in the farms
Or in the hills or a wedding day
More sex. A roll in the hay. Jack and Jill roll down the hill. The inevitable event of your wedding day. Sex. Sex. Sex.
But you wrote it down
There’s something unresolved about all of this. If it was resolved, JM wouldn’t need to write about it. We write about what we can’t reconcile.
Let me tell you a story from this past week. I came upon some evidence that someone I know is engaging in some insurance fraud. This person treated me in a bad way, in a way that was never resolved or reconciled. The people she is defrauding don’t take kindly to such things and if it was found out, she would face some consequences – perhaps not Old Testament consequences but close enough. I pondered this over the course of an evening and decided I would report it the next day during business hours.
I thought it would be justice. It would be the right thing to do. It would be fair. After writing about judgement and projection so often on this album, I saw my own judgement rattling around in my head. I stopped myself and thought about what was going on in my own life that I would not want to be revealed. Oh…….. Ok. So I did not follow through with reporting the insurance fraud. I still think it is wrong, but that doesn’t mean I need to insert myself in the process. As much as I might say it is about doing what is right and just, it is really about retribution. And who seeks retribution for others the most? The one who knows he deserves some punishment of his own.
I go back to the church bell chime in this song and the question of for whom the bell tolls. It is really fitting that is here to close out this album. The Donne poem that quote comes from begins by saying that no man is an island. The singer is not separate from those he judges and condemns. The one who judges is closer to the judged than he would care to admit. It will all be revealed eventually anyway; it always is. The judge may have his days of feigned superiority, but those days will end. “And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee. “