“The Translator” – Americana

This song would shake your bones back in the day when I had my Bazooka bass tube. I couldn’t get it loud enough. There’s something mystical in the way those guitar chords and the bass reverberate. There is actually some research on the use of vibration in sound, particularly in the lower register, in bringing about spiritual ecstasy. It’s referred to “sub-auditory components”. But instead of spiritual rapture, this song feels like more of an exorcism. It’s beating some toxin out of me with every heavy handed chord. I imagine that when Jesus was called on to banish unclean spirits from a pitiful soul, it sounded something like this.

Let’s pretend for a moment that early sf59 LPs are concept albums like Sufjan Stevens or Pedro the Lion used to do. Silver is the story of being in an emotionally manipulative relationship. You know that something feels wrong about it, but you still want it and would do anything to keep it. Gold is the story of the initial aftermath of that relationship breaking. There is sadness and loneliness but also a desire to leave things on good terms. Americana is the story how time and distance grant you the discernment you need to see how manipulative, dishonest and exploitative that person really was to you. And you are fucking pissed about it.

Some of us grow up in environments where we are taught that we are not allowed to be angry. We are not given the tools we need to know our own autonomy, let alone assert it. You are expected to suppress what you feel in order to fit into whatever mold that is expected of you. In those circumstances, anger can be the first sign of individualization – of recognizing that you are your own self, you have your own boundaries and anyone who claims to respect you would respect your autonomy. If these are truths that seem self-evident to you, be thankful you did not grow up in an environment where these fundamental truths were questioned or undermined.

Anger in this context can be a fantastic thing. It is a catalyst for reactions that reveal the nature of the components you are dealing within a person or in a relationship. In short, you start to recognize people’s bullshit. You can discern it and you can name it, even though they may try to hide their true intent from you. You can tell when someone’s behavior doesn’t match what they claim they are there to do.

There must be something on your mind
So much to tell me that you’re fine

One thing manipulative people will do to hide their intent is that they will throw a lot of words at you. They will ramble, change topics, they will jump all over the place in a conversation. All these acrobatics have an intent; they want to distract you from realizing what is at the core of what they are saying. They are throwing out bait everywhere hoping that something will get a bite. The singer can tell there is something under the surface that is not being said directly and he calls that out. He is able to take all the words being said and translate it to understand the person’s true intent.

Bent over you

Let’s just skip the obvious sexual interpretation of this line; I don’t think that’s what this song is about. I think this is an expression that the singer recognizes that he cannot stand autonomous and with his back straight in the relationship. He is expected to bend to what the other person wants of him. Now he has a choice to make. Will he conform to what the other person wants him to be or will he continue stand straight being who he is?

You always waste my time
I need some peace of mind

The singer recognizes that this person is of no worth to him. There is a lack of respect in this relationship because the other person wastes his time and is dishonest. The singer knows this is not what he needs. He needs peace of mind and that can’t be found in a relationship where someone is trying to manipulate.

This reminds me of one of my favorite Kierkegaard quotes (translated, of course):

“Do not check your soul’s flight, do not grieve the better promptings within you, do not dull your spirit with half-wishes and half-thoughts, ask yourself, and contrive to ask until you find the answer; for one may have known a thing many times and acknowledged it, one may have willed a thing many times and attempted it, and yet it is only by the indescribable emotions of the heart, that for the first time you are convinced what you have known belongs to you, that no power can take it from you, for only the truth which edifies is truth for you.” (Side note: if you have pondered about my love of commas and semi-colons, blame Kierkegaard.)

The singer has found the truth which edifies and he is not going to give it up, at least not to this person.