“Stop Wasting Your Whole Life/Messed Up and Down” – Gold

Musically, this song is most like Silver of any of the songs on this album. Which means I don’t have a lot to say about it. It has moments of aggression, it has moments of wallowing in sadness, then, strangely, it switches to a major key and has vocal harmonies. JM was trying to fit a lot into this song but the changes are subtle and can be easy to miss.

Let’s talk about this song title. For a man who must think brevity is the soul of lyric writing, this is a long song title for JM. This is almost approaching the song title length of your average Sufjan Stevens ditty. Again, it’s like he is packing a lot in here but it is not clear at first glance what the distinctions are and why so many words are needed to express this. For a writer who loves the economy of words, this seems significant.

As for the story the lyrics tell, at first glance it appears to be another song about the singer turning away from or leaving an unhealthy situation, or, more specifically, an unhealthy person. This is a person who is wasting his life and is messed up to bilateral proportions. However, there are two lines that stood out to me today that make me think there is more going on in this song:

I’m leaving tonight, I’m leaving tonight
Instead of wasting your whole life

These two lines together show that the singer thinks he is a cause for the unhealthy person to waste their life. The wasting of life is not independent of the singer. The singer is a part of the dynamic and he is leaving to force a break in the pattern.

This is some powerful stuff. Let’s unpack this some more. If you have ever known a toxic person, you know how they hold on to their bitter grievances about those who have, in their view, done them wrong. They hold it as dear as the air they breathe and it is nearly as essential for them. It is essential because it is at the foundation of their own self-concept.

Toxic people are generally people who are incapable of achieving or living out their own autonomy. They tend to see themselves as failures even if they do not admit this openly (in fact, the face that they present to the world will most likely be rattling off all their achievements and skills in an attempt to keep anyone from realizing the substantial self-hatred that they have). They cannot except that the failures might have something to do with them so there has to be external reasons for why they fail. This is why they need people to blame. All the perceived grievances and perpetual blame that they repeat over and over in their heads is what poisons them; it is what makes them toxic.

If you are a person in relationship with a toxic person, whether it is romantic, platonic or familial, you will become a source of grievance eventually. Once this happens, the toxic person will come back to it over and over like a dog that eats its own shit just to vomit it up and then eat the vomit. Once you get enough discernment to see that this is a pattern and no amount of defending yourself would ever be sufficient to address the grievance, you have to decide what you will do.

If you stay in the situation, either to defend yourself or to try to heal the breach with the toxic person, the toxic person will draw your energy out of you perpetually to keep this cycle going. Ever tried debating a narcissist? It is an exercise in futility. Ultimately, they only way you can help yourself or the toxic person is to withdraw your energy from the situation. It frees you to move towards your own growth and it frees the toxic person to find a way to break their pattern or, at the very least, find another person who wants to play that role in their life. Withdrawing your energy from the situation is really an act of kindness and grace. Maybe that’s why this song ends in harmonies and a major key.

This is a more nuanced story than just the surface reading of the singer turning away from an unhealthy person. Much like the structure of the musical components of the song, there are different things going on here that can be easily missed without discernment. If you find yourself stuck in this pattern with someone, I pray that you can find discernment and I hope that you can find a way to leave it. Leaving it tonight would be best.